INNISFAIL – The town’s great election sign controversy is over.
A new Election Sign Bylaw was passed by town council after three readings on April 26.
The new seven-page Election Sign Bylaw removes all perceived ambiguity about when election signs can be installed and clearly sets out all rules on sign size and where they can be placed. The new bylaw rules apply for both private and public properties.
As well, enforcement measures are clearly spelled out for law enforcement officers, as well as for prosecutions and penalties.
Simply put, if any candidate puts up an election sign on either public and private land prior to 45 days before any future municipal, provincial or federal election, they are facing the real possibility of a court-mandated fine that will range from a minimum of $100 to a maximum of $10,000.
“That will certainly deter putting up signs before the 45 days, the maximum of $10,000,” said Coun. Don Harrison at council’s regular meeting when the new bylaw was presented by Todd Becker, the town’s chief administrative officer.
Responding to a question from Jim Romane, the town's mayor, Becker also confirmed to council that any municipal election sign still up on either public or private lands must be removed immediately. As for the Oct. 18 general municipal election, the now legally entrenched 45-day rule only allows candidates to begin putting up signs at 12.01 a.m. on Sept. 3.
“It’s carved out in black and white. It is not a policy anymore. It’s a bylaw,” said Romane. “There was an honour system with the policy in the past. It had no backing for it. We know what was going on. It’s too bad but we had to make an official bylaw. It’s very clear cut now.”
The election sign bylaw issue erupted in the first half of March when mayoral candidate Glen Carritt started to put up election signs in the community, as well as at least one east of the town in Red Deer County.
Last December when council passed an updated Election Bylaw to conform with the province’s Local Authorities Election Act that was giving election candidates more than nine months to campaign before the 2021 municipal election, it left the town only with its non-enforceable Election Sign Policy to regulate when candidates could put up signs.
The policy clearly stated election signs could only go up 45 days prior to an election, but enforcement measures were vague at best and did not deal with private properties.
With many citizens upset and confused, the town was forced to create an Election Sign Bylaw.
The new sign bylaw, which replaces the now rescinded sign policy, also details the rules for installing signs on private property. First and foremost, a candidate needs the consent of the property owner. Election signs on town property can only be placed in pre-determined places, including the popular southwest corner location at the intersection of 50th Street and Highway 2A, and outside the Innisfail Cemetery along Lakewood Drive.
Coun. Donnie Hill wanted to know if it was appropriate to “clutter up’ the front of the cemetery with signs.
“Some view that as potentially disrespectful for the cemetery,” said Hill, adding the issue was brought up by a few long-term residents of Innisfail. “Could we do without that area? It’s kind of a no-go zone but if it is not council’s desire then that is fine.”
Coun. Danny Rieberger told council the concern was a non-issue as there are “probably” many veterans in the cemetery who would be happy to have election signs up.
He later told The Albertan that veterans fought for the right of all citizens, including Innisfailians, to have free elections in Canada unlike countries with communist political systems.
“The fact we have free elections is what the veterans were fighting for,” he said, adding elections signs were not in or blocking the cemetery but placed more adjacent to the property.
The new Election Sign Bylaw is being put on the municipal election page of the town’s website (innisfail.ca/administration/municipal-election) and it will be emailed directly to declared municipal election candidates.