West Van switches course on regulating election signs

New rules would have regulated ‘proliferation and placement’

After 30 hours of staff time and one hour of council discussion, West Vancouver is sticking with the status quo on election signs following Monday’s council meeting.

Council had been leaning toward stricter sign regulations after staff fielded complaints from residents displeased with the 2,575 placards that popped up during the 2018 municipal election.

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In December 2018, council unanimously supported having district staff investigate limitations on the number, size and location of election signs with Coun. Craig Cameron emphasizing both the environmental and esthetic impact.

“It’s about time we limited the signs,” Coun. Bill Soprovich agreed at the December meeting.

However, council reversed course on Monday, in part due to the impracticality of regulating election signs.

“I don’t think it’s been an ill that we really have to cure,” said Mayor Mary-Ann Booth, who suggested dispatching municipal staff to count election signs was a poor use of district resources.

Booth, who previously expressed concern that stricter rules could hurt voter turnout, reaffirmed her objections Monday.

“It’s a small price to pay for one of the most important things that we do as citizens,” she said of the signs. “We just have to suffer through.”

Council’s reversal was a disappointment for Coun. Nora Gambioli.

“All seven of us voted to proceed with this and asked staff to go and do this work,” she said. “To now say that we think it’s a waste of time, I think is a little bit hypocritical.”

More than 2,500 campaign signs were erected during the 2018 municipal election, drawing complaints from some West Vancouver residents. - photo supplied Peter Zirpke

“No, it isn’t hypocritical at all, it’s my choice,” Soprovich interrupted.

Soprovich said the issue was about protecting freedom of expression.

“What’s next? We’ll be restricting something else?” he asked.

Gambioli proposed a maximum of 100 election signs per candidate.

“Nobody needs more signs than that,” she said.

Gambioli also backed staff’s idea of designating 15 sign-friendly spots throughout the district and limiting candidates to one sign apiece in those spots. There are similar restrictions in Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam and Port Moody.

“We need to follow our own policy guidelines in reducing the use of plastics in this municipality,” Gambioli said. “This is not walking the talk, this is stepping back from what we know we have to do.”

Restricting the location of election signs could “blow up in our faces,” if there isn’t enough room for each candidate’s signs, warned Coun. Marcus Wong.

Coun. Peter Lambur agreed.

“There’s no way that some of those sites could take 25 signs,” Lambur said.

Wong also suggested that tighter regulations could hurt new Canadians without a broad network of voters to draw from.

Discussing the choice between maintaining the status quo and enforcing a no-sign policy, Coun. Sharon Thompson argued in favour of keeping the current system.

“The reality is, there’s quite a few people who actually don’t even realize there’s an election going on until they see the signs go up,” she said.

Cameron said he would support a no-sign policy, calling the placards: “extremely low value speech.” However, given his colleagues’ divergent views on the subject, Cameron suggested council “let this go.”

Council voted 5-2 against having staff prepare a new election bylaw, with Gambioli and Lambur casting the dissenting votes.

Council watcher John Cave thanked council for their decision.

“Incumbents have name recognition and election signs help level that playing field,” he told council prior to their debate. “Elections represent the best of our democracy. A little chaos for a short period of time is why our fathers went to war.”

Currently, West Vancouver has restrictions on the size and height of election signs. The municipality forbids election signs in municipal parks and allows signs on boulevards in front of private property only with the permission of the property owner.

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