On the evening of Thursday, Jun. 13, 2019, minutes before the Raptors’ historic tip-off, five members of city council were themselves making history. Together, voting unanimously on three major amendments to Kingston’s by-laws, the Administrative Policy Committee recommended that City Council ban election signs on public property. If adopted by council in July, that means no more election signs on the side of roads during the municipal, provincial, or federal elections, within city limits.
Signs on private property, both commercial and residential, two per party/candidate, will still be allowed. In fact, the number of signs was the only amendment that did not receive full support from the committee. Councillors Simon Chapelle, Peter Stroud, and Wayne Hill voted for the aforementioned two signs per party/candidate, while Councillors Robert Kiley and Jeff McLaren argued for one sign per party/candidate per property.
The debate kicked off with a presentation from City Staff. The recommendation to amend the by-laws in question was a response to complaints from last year’s elections, particularly the spring’s provincial election. Many campaigns were faulted for improper sign placement, especially within ‘sight triangles.’ Sight triangles are areas created by drawing a 15 metre line in either direction from an intersection; no signs are supposed to be in these spaces. Of course, if you’ve seen where signs are placed during elections — usually at the corner of two or more roads — it’s obvious that many signs were out of step with local regulations.
Staff consulted with the public during an open house on the issues and through Kingston’s online engagement platform Get Involved to inform their opinion, which did not include the councillors’ desired ban. The results roughly suggested an even split in the community: those who thought elections signs were positive, and others negative. The staff report also explored the tact taken by other municipalities in Ontario, including setbacks, distance between signs, and other stipulations. It is not legal for councils to ban election signs on private property.
The councillors on Administrative Policy asked questions probing the rationale for the initial suggestions from the clerk’s department, opting ultimately for the amendments to enact a ban. Many councillors cited their experience campaigning and the environmental damage and public sentiment against signs. They collectively argued that it would be less of a resource burden on the City’s by-law enforcement to only patrol private signs, instead of enforcing an increasingly complex and undesirable set of rules for signs on public property. Questions were raised as to whether or not such prohibition will give incumbents an advantage. The response was that it forces all candidates, particularly new candidates, to door-to-door canvass.
Despite near consensus on the final motion, the sign by-law as amended still needs to be passed by city council next month. If it passes, it will mean Kingstonians will certainly see less signs — and more of the road and public property — as they drive around Kingston during this fall’s federal election.