Comox council debated the merits of public right versus public eyesore Wednesday, as council received a staff report suggesting the prohibition of municipal political election signs on public locations with the exception of boulevards fronting private property.
In May, Richard Kanigan, the town’s chief administrative officer noted that Section 325 of the Canada Elections Act states that no one can prevent or impair the transmission to the public of an election advertising message, such as a sign, although a public authority may prevent or impair any unlawful transmission, after giving reasonable notice.
Town staff indicated there is damage following elections in the range of $500 to $1,000 to repair broken irrigation systems in boulevards from signs puncturing the system.
“Spending $500 to $1,000 every three years for a municipal election I don’t think is a big price to pay for freedom of speech,” said Coun. Tom Grant.
“I just think it’s wrong. I would think the enforcement of keeping the political signs off the property would cost us more than $500 an election. It’s visual pollution — I understand that as everyone else, but it only lasts for five weeks, every three years. That’s a small price to pay for democracy,” he added.
Coun. Patti Fletcher argued in places such as Banff which is legislated by federal jurisdiction, election signs are not allowed on any public property.
“People get to know their candidates, and not a sign,” she noted.
“I would just encourage council to be leaders and be willing to make change. Maybe it’s time to take the lead on this and we don’t have to look to our neighbours for direction; we can be leaders in our own right and make a decision on this,” Fletcher added.
Coun. Hugh MacKinnon agreed with Fletcher’s support of the recommendation, adding he takes issue with the sheer volume of signs, and not the signs themselves.
“As far as freedom of speech, people can put signs on their own property. The number of signs when I speak with people is what they’re most opposed to. If there’s 100 signs on the same boulevard saying the same thing … I don’t know, but I think that’s overkill.”
Coun. Ken Grant said the decision to place signs around Comox should be left up to each individual candidate.
“To me, it’s part of the way someone may want to do a campaign. If you want to put signs up, then put them up, and if you don’t — don’t,” he noted. “I don’t really see why we would get ourselves involved in the democratic process that really occurs so irregularly. And if you’re good with a sign campaign, it could really make a difference in a campaign. Why would we take that away?”
After a lengthy debate, the recommendation was approved to be forwarded to the next regular council meeting, as Couns. Fletcher, Marcia Turner, MacKinnon and Mayor Ives voted in favour, while Coun. Tom Grant, Ken Grant and Russ Arnott voted against.
The next local government election is scheduled for Nov. 19, 2011.