Signs of the times

Russell Wangersky
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PC candidate Charlene Johnson must have thought she hit the campaign sign jackpot. A great big sign, right on a corner of Route 70 next to a road reconstruction project. You couldn’t say “For new pavement, elect me” any more clearly if you tried.

But at least the jumbo sign is on private property — which means, hopefully, that the homeowner is a Johnson supporter.

Election signs: they’re sprouting up like mushrooms right now.

But signs don’t vote and it’s important to look hard at what the placards actually mean.

Perhaps you look at the number of offerings and try to gauge who’s in the lead — it’s funny how every party uses the same regimented set of sizes and shapes — but if you’re going to do that, you should stop for a moment and think about how signs should be totted up.

Here’s the way the equation should work: give a candidate one point for every sign you see on private property.

At the same time, subtract two points for every sign on public property, road medians, vacant lots and empty corners.

Why? The more desperate the candidate, the more likely they are to pile up their extra signs on public property — and a sign on public property just means the candidate has two supporters: one to hold the stick and the other to pound it in.

Signs on public property should send another message as well: they are just another measure of the self-dealing entitlement that makes up a large part of our political system.

If you decided to pound signs for your sandwich shop into the closest scrap of public land to your business, the signs would be gone in a heartbeat.

Why? Because candidates are treated differently than you are. Rules that apply to posting signs specifically exempt “a posting of a candidate in a federal, provincial or municipal election or a regional school board election.”

It’s like the system that funds campaigns. Donate money to a charity that’s trying to save starving children, and you’ll get a small portion of your donation back as a non-refundable tax credit.

Donate that same money to a registered political party, and you’ll get as much as 75 per cent of that money knocked right off your tax bill.

There are other special deals, too.

This province’s Elections Act — Section 226.2 — says candidates automatically pay the lowest rate available for broadcast and periodical advertising.

As in so many ways, to quote George Orwell, all animals are equal. It’s just that some are more equal than others.

The argument, of course, will be that the political system needs financial support and, at election time, candidates need visibility and name recognition.

The right to do what no other citizen can do legally is somehow an essential piece of democracy — as is the fact that, unless the sign is interfering with driving sightlines, the moment it’s pounded into the ground, it’s protected from vandalism.

Maybe I’m just cranky.

But to my mind, if you abandon a sign on the public right-of-way, you shouldn’t be able to complain if someone defaces it with a giant moustache or knocks it over. If you have a right to post your opinion about your electability on public property, someone else has just as much right to make their opinions known.

That, of course, is not the way the rules work. As has been the case in past municipal elections in St. John’s, even if you make an alteration to an election sign — let alone destroy it — you could face charges (even if the change is downright funny).

Post a sign on a highway and transportation workers can chainsaw it down in a New York minute.

We’re all equal. Yep.

And like politicians everywhere, they need their own set of rules. To protect democracy.

Just like they need special salary deals and pensions that regular voters will never, ever see, but will always pay for. Sad, isn’t it?

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at

Geographic location: New York

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Recent comments

  • William Daniels
    September 27, 2011 - 16:24

    Johnson has already bungled another portfolio. Seems to be a trend.

  • Carl
    September 27, 2011 - 09:21

    It's disgraceful that Wangersky and the Telegram would condone vandalism of campaign signs like this. The reason campaign signs are treated differently than signs for a private business is that informing voters who their candidates are is a public service, whereas informing voters about a private business enterprise is a service to that private enterprise and no one else. There is already too much rude, childish and anti-democratic behaviour in the way we do politics. Wangersky should not be encouraging it. (Having said all that, I do agree that the tax treatment of political and charitable donations should be the same.)