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60 days out from a federal election, lawn signs are starting to appear

Voters will notice a proliferation of federal campaign signs over the coming days as parties begin planting them on the front lawns of faithful partisans.

While some studies have suggested that lawn signs of this sort are essentially useless and do little to actually change votes — “signs don’t vote,” says an old campaign adage — other recent research from Columbia University suggests the presence of lawn signs can actually boost overall voter turnout by reminding people to show up at the polls on election day.

A Fordham University study also found that stationing people at intersections the day before an election, holding signs encouraging people to vote, increased turnout in those neighbourhoods.

To deal with the expected influx of blue, orange, red and green signs, municipalities across the country have established bylaws limiting where and when these signs can be displayed.

The federal Canada Elections Act doesn’t govern the placement of signs outside of a writ period — but it does impose one important rule right across the nation once an election is called: property owners do not have the right to prevent tenants from putting up elections signs on the premises they lease. Condominium corporations also have no right to prevent condo owners from putting up election signs on the units they own.

There’s another rule that virtually every municipality in the country enforces: a candidate must first get permission from a homeowner before placing a sign on their property.

“The Canada Elections Act does not affect the right of private residential property owners to control which people enter their property, or which things are placed on it,” a spokesperson for Elections Canada said in an email to CBC News.

Ottawa — the city where interest in federal politics may be the highest — allows the display of federal election signs earlier than many other municipalities. Ottawa’s municipal bylaw allows residents to start displaying campaign signs on their private property 60 days prior to election day — today, in other words.

Candidates in the Ottawa area wasted no time: Liberal MP Catherine McKenna and Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, among others, had their signs up first thing Wednesday morning.

The signs require no special permit but they can’t be placed in a spot that might cause harm to a motorist, cyclist or pedestrian. Parties will have to wait until 30 days out from the federal vote to start placing their signs on public property.

In the city of Toronto, meanwhile, federal election signs can only be displayed starting the day the election writ is issued. Vancouver also forbids the display of campaign signs until the day an election is announced. As long as a candidate complies with a detailed list of 20 dos and don’ts, Calgary also allows signs in public places starting the day the writ is dropped.

York Region, the sprawling suburban zone north of Toronto that’s a key battleground for all parties in the upcoming election, has similarly restricted the public display of signs until the day the election is officially called.

Some municipalities in that region, like Vaughan, levy a sign deposit fee of $250 on every candidate to keep the costs associated with sign clean-up in the days after a vote.

The region is warning candidates to comply with fairly stringent display restrictions (for example, signs have to be a certain distance from a public road and candidates are allowed to post just one sign per corner of an intersection) or risk seeing their signs confiscated for the remainder of the election period.

York Region operates a series of recycling depots where signs — typically made of plastic — can be sent after an election for processing.

One Ontario city, Kingston, Ont., has had its fill of signs popping up on municipal roads and regional arteries. Kingston has enacted one of the most stringent campaign sign bylaws in the country.

Earlier this summer, Kingston’s city council passed a bylaw prohibiting election signs on all public property, including roadside locations.

That city also has limited the number of signs allowed on private property to just two per property. The bylaw has been criticized as a curb on free speech and an unfair restriction of political expression. Some candidates have argued that, without signs, they’ll struggle to build name recognition among new voters.

An individual convicted of violating the Kingston bylaw could face a fine up to $10,000 for a first offence and up to $25,000 for subsequent offences.

Surrey, B.C. banned campaign signs outright in public spaces after the city incurred roughly $160,000 in costs associated with cleaning up non-compliant signs after this year’s municipal election. Some voices in Brampton, Ont. want to enact a similar ban in that community, describing the signs as an eyesore and bad for the environment.

At least one Toronto city councillor, Rowena Santos, says the signs are wasteful and ineffective and wants to ban them from the city entirely, including from residential properties.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to call an election sometime after Labour Day. Under federal fixed election date legislation, the vote must be held sometime on or before Oct. 21.


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