Signs of the times?
Two of the three candidates running to represent Williamsville in the coming municipal election have decided to forgo the use of lawn signs.
Following suit of their fellow candidates in the Portsmouth District, who all pledged not to use signs during this election, as well as a number of school board trustee candidates who’ve done the same, incumbent Jim Neill and candidate Andre Imbeault have publicly announced their decision not to use lawn signs. Neill has served as the city councillor representing Williamsville since 2010 (and was also on council from 1991 to 1996), and, although Imbeault has no previous experience in municipal politics, he did campaign to be Kingston and the Islands’ Member of Provincial Parliament in the provincial election earlier this year.
“It was the provincial election with all of those signs, planted a couple of feet apart, around parks and next to cemeteries… I mean, it just went way out of control,” said Neill of what prompted him to think about how signs are used during elections.
Neill said he then began writing an op-ed column “saying no to signs on public property,” but, as he was doing so, he started to question whether or not he wanted to use the 428 signs sitting in his garage at all.
“And I didn’t want to,” Neill said with a laugh, noting that using signs not only creates eyesores, it is also very time-consuming.
He re-wrote his op-ed, and decided he was going to run his campaign during this election without lawn signs – he will, however, continue to use paper window signs. He promptly took his back catalogue of signs he’d collected over 20+ years of campaigning in Kingston, and took them to the Kingston and Area Recycling Centre. Corrugated plastic signs like those typically used in elections have only become recyclable in Kingston over the past year, Neill said, but thousands of them still end up in landfills all the time.
“But even now that they are recyclable, if we can avoid even using lawn signs, I think we’re better off,” said Neill.
Imbeault echoed Neill’s sentiments on why he’s chosen not to use signs.
“The environmental impact of signs is usually the reason behind running a sign-less campaign, but signs are also a huge drain on a campaign’s resources. Even in a small district like ours, it takes a significant amount of time to install and maintain signs, not to mention the cost,” he said.
“The time and money is better spent on initiatives that connect directly with the community, like materials for canvassing or meet the candidate events. Signs don’t vote – people do.”
Their fellow candidate in Williamsville, Vincent Cinanni, a newcomer to the municipal political arena, will be using lawn signs during his campaign, and his reasoning is simple.
“Jim Neill has had four elections where he felt the need that he had to use election signs, so he’s had the luxury to have his name out for four elections,” Cinanni said.
“He has the name recognition. I don’t.”
Cinanni also said he feels that Neill – who admits he ran a couple of very aggressive sign campaigns while running against former councillor Ed Smith – chose an interesting election to go sign-less.
“He waited until [he had] an opponent who didn’t have name recognition to do this no sign thing,” Cinanni said plainly.
“He could have done this last time, the time before. He kept his lawn signs for a lot of years, like, 20 years, maybe? You know, if he felt that way, he could have gotten rid of them a long time ago… It just feels like it’s more for publicity.”
There are also reasons other than name recognition that Cinanni is choosing to employ signs during his campaign, he expressed.
“If you look at the provincial elections, the last ones, there were over 5,500 more people [that] voted, and just look at the amount of lawn signs that were out there,” he said, noting that not everyone pays close attention to municipal politics and signs are a good way to remind residents of a coming election.
“It actually probably helped with engagement or getting people out to vote, or really care about wanting to go vote.”
Having said that, Cinanni expressed that he felt the sign wars during the last provincial election were “excessive on all parts,” and that he has no intentions of “painting the district with his signs.”
“It doesn’t mean that you have to put signs like two feet apart in a big row,” he said, adding that he plans on talking to everyone in the district, and hopes that people will remember speaking with him when they see one of his signs during the campaign.
“My intent is just to have [signs] on some supporters’ lawns and maybe in a couple of key locations.”