Opinion: Kingston’s ban on election signs a partisan tactic

Kingstonist file photo of election signs during a past municipal election. Kingston City Council recently voted in favour of banning election signs on public property.

Editorial note: The following is a press release issued by Ruslan Yakoviychuk, Conservative candidate for Kingston and the Islands in the upcoming federal election. As an opinion piece, we have published it unchanged. Please see our commentary below the article for corrections on factual errors.

The recent decision by Kingston city council to ban election signs on public property, gives the upper hand to incumbents and is an “affront to democracy,” say two immigrant Canadians who have run recent campaigns in the Ontario city.

“I would like to think that council is simply misguided, and not politically motivated,” Ruslan Yakoviychuk, current federal candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada, said of council’s decision to ban election signs from public streets and roadsides. Signs will be permitted only on private property. “But the effect of this bylaw will be to suppress political participation by less well known names in the community, and that includes newer Canadians like myself and Jimmy Hassan.”

Mr. Hassan, a local businessman, slammed the council’s sign ban in a letter to the local newspaper the day after the June 11 vote, explaining how signs had made all the difference for his campaign for a city council seat last fall. Mr. Hassan, who came to Canada 15 years ago, lost his first run for office by less than 250 votes. Mr. Yakoviychuk, a home-builder, originally from Ukraine, who came to Kingston 15 years ago, now finds himself in the same situation as Mr. Hassan in facing a well-known incumbent, but with a newly constrained ability to put his name out in front of voters.

“By passing this bylaw, this city is favouring the political establishment in this city,” said Mr. Yakoviychuk. “The people of Kingston have worked hard to welcome newcomers, and now city council is discouraging them from political participation, and discouraging a diversity of views.”

The Kingston and the Islands riding has been a provincial Liberal stronghold for 36 years, and has been Liberal at the federal level for 31 years. As of the last federal election, only three other jurisdictions among the 444 municipalities in Ontario had banned election signs on public property. The city of Ottawa briefly discussed a ban during the last federal election, but dismissed the idea as unfair to lesser known candidates. Kingston city councillor Simon Chapelle, who voted against the motion, told council the proposal was “an affront to democracy and an affront to freedom of expression.” The motion lost 8-4 (one councillor was absent).

“This is certainly going to create an incumbency factor so great that if we vote for this we are basically saying to our current sitting MP, ‘You don’t even need to run. Don’t even bother putting up a sign because your name recognition is there,’’ he told council.

The current incumbent is Liberal MP Mark Gerretsen, 43, who served as mayor of Kingston from 2010-2014. He is the only son of former mayor, Ontario MPP and cabinet minister John Gerretsen. MP Gerretsen commented that city council had made their decision a little close to a federal election, making it more difficult for candidates to plan, but generally reacted positively to the move. He suggested signs aren’t as important as they once were as technology has given candidates others means of gaining exposure. However, less than a year ago in an interview with TVO, Mr. Gerretsen’s current campaign manager, former Kingston and the Islands MP Ted Hsu, had commented that banning lawn signs would tend to favour an incumbent, because doing so denies challengers an opportunity to get their name in front of voters. Mr. Hsu further told TVO that in a world of fake news and Twitter bots, election signs are important because they function as visible, real-world indicators of political support.

Mr. Yakoviychuk said Kingston city council is inviting accusations of partisanship by banning election signs from public property, especially this close to a federal election.

Editorial note:
Mr. Yakoviychuk stated in his release that Kingston and the Islands has been in a “Liberal stronghold” provincially for 36 years. This is incorrect. The current MPP, Ian Arthur, is with the NDP, and Gary Wilson was the MPP for Kingston and the Islands from 1990 to 1995, which was 24 years ago.
Additionally, Yakoviychuk’s release states that current MP Mark Gerretsen is the only son of former MPP John Gerretsen. That is also not true.
Also, City Council voted on the election sign bylaw on Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2019, not June 11.
Former MPP Ted Hsu has also reached out to Kingstonist to clarify the information attributed to him above. The TVO article actually said Hsu ‘believes that in a world of fake news and Twitter bots, election signs are important because they function as visible, real-world indicators of political support — as an “endorsement that you give by being willing to put a lawn sign in front of your house, on your own property, in plain view.” Hsu was referring to lawn signs on private property.
As well, former City Council candidate Jimmy Hassan has reached out to express his feelings on being quoted in this release. To read what Hassan had to say, read the comments below, which include one from Hassan himself explaining his views on the use of election signs.

5 thoughts on “Opinion: Kingston’s ban on election signs a partisan tactic

  • I was talking about _lawn signs_ being important, not signs on public property. Not cool to use what I said incorrectly — Ted

  • I couldn’t disagree more with the views expressed by Mr. YAKOVIYCHUK.

    I have always viewed signs on our streets as a blemish on the landscape, not to mention a waste of resources (both financial and natural).

    In this age of “big data” campaigns, how effective (or necessary) are political signs anyway? In the world of these campaigns – and in particular political signs – there is an unadmitted game of scale. Bigger (or as some campaigns prefer, ‘[The] Biggest’) signs ferociously jockeying for the best positioning at key traffic intersections and other prime locations. In my humble view, as for name ID, messaging or really anything else (including ‘Get Out The Vote’), they don’t accomplish diddly-squat. They’re placed there by the campaigns and that’s the limit of what they signify. They really don’t amount to a hill of beans. Allow me to be blunt here: ‘Campaign signs don’t vote.’

    Yard signs on private property, however – and which have been exempted by City Council – will still have their place (i.e. drawing attention, providing name recognition, supporting the messaging of a campaign, etc.) and make no mistake, yard signage DOES say something. It’s only in place because a voter has explicitly requested it to be installed and on their private property.

    Finally, I question the overall stridency of Mr. YAKOVIYCHUK’s comments.


  • Mr. YAKOVIYCHUK has not disclosed his relationship with Councillor Simon CHAPELLE (District 2 | Loyalist-Cataraqui ), who he quotes in support of his position. During the 2018 municipal campaign, Mr. YAKOVIYCHUK served as the Fundraising Chair for Councillor CHAPELLE’s municipal campaign.

  • Though Mr. Yakoviychuk has expressed his anguish on City Council’s recent ban on election signs on public property, he has quoted from my earlier letter to another local newspaper totally out of context. His statement gives an impression if him and I are at the same page regarding the City Council’s move; whereas, the truth is that our perspectives are poles apart from each other. He has tried to make it an issue of “immigrant” and “non-immigrant” Canadians which is to me an utterly wrong portrayal of the issue. To the contrary, I don’t think that this divide was ever a factor in banning the signs on public property. Without questioning the commitment and civic passion of the City Council members who voted in favor of the ban, my perspective is totally different than Mr. Yakoviychuk’s. I don’t think its the spirit of partisanship that invoked such ban. I only believe that it would hinder the course of new entrants into city politics when they would be in competition with veteran incumbents. Jimmy Hassan

  • Thank you for the Editorial Note and following comments. From what has been said, it appears that Mr. Yakoviychuk is not too concerned about stating the truth, but is twisting the facts for his own political advantage.

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