Signs Point to Excess

By Jason Menard

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. With all due respect to The Five Man Electrical Band, kudos to the Green Party’s Monica Jarabek for taking steps to bring common sense into election campaigns and trying to do something about the proliferation of unnecessary campaign signs.

Jarabek has proposed that all the candidates in the London West riding agree to do something about the insidious overpopulation of election signs that dot the landscape each and every election campaign. Under her proposal, all the candidates will publicly agree to post election signs only on private property. It just makes too much sense not to work – which is probably why it won’t.

The fact that a candidate from a less-prominent party is making this suggestion actually makes it carry more weight. Jarabek and her cohorts would seem to have more to lose than the big boys and girls of the political spectrum with this proposal. A significant portion of these smaller parties’ road-side advertising comes from campaign signs on public property. But it appears Jarabek’s willing to sacrifice what’s best for her for what’s right – although the publicity this proposal has created is a welcome benefit, no doubt.

Think back over the past few election campaigns. How many times have you driven down the street and been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of campaign signs, dotting an open land space like a field of untamed dandelions? It’s not unusual to see a dozen or two signs for the same candidate sitting side by each, covering a formerly green area with a wash of blue, red, green, or yellow.

It’s a scene that repeats itself in every city across Canada, during every election. Municipal, provincial, federal – no matter what the campaign, the prevailing wisdom is that more is better.

Actually, the abundance of political signs actually serves as a rather appropriate metaphor for election campaigns in general. Volume outweighs individuality. We’re so accustomed to see intelligent debate devolve into a shouting contest that we’ve come to accept the same from our visual campaign materials. Where one sign would actually do the trick, by plastering the landscape with multiple versions, parties end up engaging in a laminated cardboard shouting match!

Jarabek’s proposal has one significant benefit for the voters of Canada. Simply put, if candidates choose – or are forced – to abstain from putting campaign signs on public property, then they’ll have to work hard to woo voters into believing in their cause enough to put a sign on their lawn. That means that the candidates will have to explain their position better to their constituents, and more people will be engaged in the political process.

In a way, it evens out the game. The smaller guys, like the Green Party and the NDP, will be able to compete, at least visually, on a more even playing field with the big boys. It’s the message and the ability of the candidate to sell it to constituents that will play a defining role in earning the right to advertise on a lawn. The depth of commitment to the riding will outweigh the depth of a Party’s wallet.

And, as a voter, a campaign sign on my neighbour’s lawn will mean more to me than a couple of dozen non-affiliated signs on a highway turn-off. When the signs are placed by actual voters, it can stimulate conversation and engage the average voter in the electoral process by encouraging discussion and debate of political views and candidate benefits.

There are a number of other benefits to this proposal as well. A sea of campaign signs can, in fact, pose a hazard to drivers and pedestrians alike, obstructing views and creating new blind spots. As well, there are the environmental and financial concerns that this overkill creates. By adopting Jarabek’s idea, we’d not only be reducing the amount of redundant campaign material that ends up in the trash, we’d help to reduce the exorbitant cost of elections. Those signs have to get paid for eventually – and it usually comes from the tax payers’ wallets.

But why just stop in London West? Why not make this a country-wide endeavour. What’s stopping the parties from either entering into a gentleman’s agreement to only put campaign signs on private property or even enacting legislation?

It’s an idea that makes sense. In fact, the writing’s on the wall – only the view’s been blocked by far too many signs. When it comes to the next election, let’s just hope that less really will be more.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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