Burnaby North-Seymour NDP candidate takes aim at election signs bylaw

Svend Robinson was fined $2,400, which he calls "unfair and unacceptable," and which he says could allow rival campaigns to cause each other "mischief"

Burnaby’s signs bylaw could allow election campaigns to wreak havoc on their rivals, a high-profile New Democrat told city council this week.

Burnaby officials will be taking another look at the city’s signs bylaw after Svend Robinson highlighted issues during the fall federal election campaign.

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The bylaw was recently changed to bar the signs from appearing on public property, and the former Burnaby North-Seymour NDP candidate said that left him with an "unfair and unacceptable" $2,400 fine.

Robinson said his campaign had two types of signs: small ones, often picked up by supporters and placed at their discretion, and larger signs, put up by his own campaign team.

At first, Robinson said he had a good experience with the bylaw and enforcement of it, feeling like there was a mutual understanding with the city. Bylaw would let him know if there were any issues, and his campaign would promptly deal with them.

But on Oct. 17, four days before the election, Robinson said his team was handed eight bylaw infraction tickets related to the sign bylaw.

“All of these were small signs. None of them were in major roads, public areas; all of them were outside residential homes, in a front yard or a boulevard. … This is completely unfair and unacceptable,” Robinson said.

“The enforcement notice said this was done at one o’clock in the morning on the 16th of October. … There was no warning whatsoever.”

Robinson said his team sought to tell people when they picked up the small signs that they couldn’t be put up on public property, but he said he couldn’t control what people did with the signs from there.

This has the potential to be a particularly bad issue for a candidate, Robinson said. At $300 per infraction, Robinson was fined $2,400 – if a candidate were close to their spending limits, that kind of a fine could push them over that limit and disqualify them from the election.

“Think about this for a minute: If your political opponents want to do you mischief, all they have to do is move your signs onto public property,” Robinson told council.

He said he spoke with People’s Party candidate Rocky Dong about the issue, and while they don’t agree on a lot of things, the two agreed on this issue.

Councillors expressed regret for Robinson’s experience with the bylaw, and voted unanimously to have staff take another look at the bylaw and enforcement of it.

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