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Oakville Council seeks public consultation on Election Sign by-law

Jeff Knoll Election Sign | Jeff Knoll
Jeff Knoll Election Sign | Jeff Knoll

As mentioned in an earlier Oakville News article, town council was expected to debate a motion put forward by councillors Sean O’Meara and Nav Nanda at the Jan. 30 council meeting regarding election signs on public property. The motion would have created a new by-law allowing signs to be displayed only on private property, with the property owner's consent.

Anyone driving around Oakville during any election, be it federal, provincial or municipal, would understand the issue. “It just caused a lot of sign pollution,” said Nanda earlier and repeated last night. “People just felt it was too much.”

Nanda, who successfully won her seat in Ward 7, would know. With eleven candidates running for town and/or regional councillor, five running for school board trustee, and three running for regional chair in 2022 – that’s a lot of signage to look at.

However, the election sign by-law motion was stopped dead in its tracks by a ‘referral’ motion by Ward 6 town councillor Natalia Lishchyna, much to the frustration of councillor O’Meara. As Mayor Rob Burton noted, a motion of referral takes precedence over other motions before council.

The motion read: “That staff undertake community consultation and report back, including legal advice, on the existing by-law regulations and availability of election signage and options to further regulate and prohibit election signage including third party election signs on public property and the resources and costs of implementation.”

For anyone following the issue of election signage on public property, one knows that the existing by-law permits election signs on any of the 35 arterial roads controlled by the Town of Oakville. Regional roads are regulated by the Region of Halton, which prohibits such signage on public property, as does Burlington and Mississauga.

Even though the motion to prohibit election signs on public property would not be discussed at the council meeting, Mayor Burton allowed those who had registered to speak on the motion to proceed.

Eight delegations had registered to comment, including two failed candidates in the last federal election, billing themselves as the ‘candidates of record for the Conservative Party’ in the two Oakville ridings. Others present represented various residents’ associations throughout the town.

Seven of those delegates were opposed to O’Meara’s motion citing: the lack of public consultation; the low voter turnout for elections; the concern that incumbents would have an unfair advantage if signs were not allowed on public property; the majority of towns in Ontario do allow signage on public property; that signs are an effective means of visibility, especially for new candidates building recognition; and “even the Green Party uses signs.”

Delegants offered several options to mitigate the concerns of those opposed to public property signage, including

  1. Environmentally-friendly signs 
  2. Restricting the number and size of signs
  3. Increasing the capacity of by-law enforcement to remove and destroy illegal signs 
  4. Limiting the number of roads or size of the areas on public property permitted to host signs

The lone delegation in favour of the motion, Anu Mally of the North Oakville Ward 7 Residents’ Association, noted the near accidents at several street corners due to the hindrance of visibility and complaints from residents about screws and nails left on roadways causing flat tires. “Signage didn’t bring the voters out,” she said. “If anything, it’s an annoyance.”

Throughout the delegations, councillors, as is their want, ask questions of some delegations to learn more, tease out details and reflect their points of view. Most of the councillors sat on their hands and kept mum throughout the two-hour discussion, perhaps not to tip their hat at one or the other side of the debate as it had been delayed until further public consultation had been established.

Councillors O’Meara and Nanda occasionally probed those who opposed the restrictive motion. O’Meara, in particular, asked for studies or statistics that indicated that signs on public property hindered or improved voter recognition.

Councillors Dave Gittings and Janet Haslett-Theall, both from Ward 3, supported those who opposed the motion and commended delegants for offering suggested alternatives and amendments.

As it stands, there are no new elections on the horizon giving town staff plenty of time to propose and facilitate public consultations. It would appear that ‘to be continued’ is the result of this ongoing issue.