Not really welcome, but needed

Big names and smiling faces have boldly returned to a street corner near you. Over the next several weeks, election signs will dot Red Deer’s landscape as municipal election candidates attempt to win over undecided voters. If drivers think there are more signs, they may be right.

Stantec Consulting surveyors Peter Schempp

Stantec Consulting surveyors Peter Schempp

Big names and smiling faces have boldly returned to a street corner near you.

Over the next several weeks, election signs will dot Red Deer’s landscape as municipal election candidates attempt to win over undecided voters. If drivers think there are more signs, they may be right.

The City of Red Deer has approved 34 public locations, up from 26 allowed in the 2007 municipal election when the city was smaller. While sign locations are up, interest for signs appears to be waning.

Some candidates chose to not use signs for the sake of the environment, a new approach. Instead, they hope to raise their community profile through the Internet, public election forums and events.

The first to declare a no-sign campaign is downtown businessman Paul Harris, first-time city councillor candidate. Others who have followed suit include mayoralty candidate Hilary Penko, who explained she is “rather frugal.” After spending $135 on 1,000 business cards, she couldn’t imagine the cost of signs.

“Plus, I think they’re a little distracting for me,” Penko said. “I was sitting at a light and was looking at them when the light turned green. Nobody honked at me but they should have. And I am trying to promote a greener Red Deer.”

Councillor candidate Calvin Yzerman reluctantly put up some signs, but said he hopes in future elections there will be far fewer locations or none at all. With the help of brother-in-law Henry Iliscupidez, Yzerman hand-made nine wooden signs for about $40 each. His last name is stenciled in fluorescent paint.

Morris Flewwelling, seeking a third term as mayor, is using billboard signs recycled from two previous elections.

He said he won’t be distributing neighbourhood lawn signs.

“It would be nice if we could have an election without signs because they are wasteful of materials and they take a lot of time and effort to put up and babysit,” Flewwelling said. “But in this world where name recognition and attempts to get people’s attention is focused on that . . . I don’t think we’ll see the day where you don’t see signs. It’s just like garage sales. If you didn’t have a sign, nobody would know you were having a garage sale.”

Penko figures she’s put herself at a disadvantage somewhat because of her decision. She will attend public forums, events and use the Internet to get her message across.

“A sign does serve a purpose but it doesn’t say who you are,” said Penko.

Chris Stephan, first-time councillor candidate, said about 75 people have requested to put up lawn signs and he has about 175 to go. Of all the candidates running for school board or city council, his billboards show the most variety. There of photos of him in a canola field and on a bridge, as well of him wearing a jersey of the Red Deer Rebels hockey team.

Stephan received permission beforehand from the Rebels, but the team did request a disclaimer to say he is not officially endorsed by the Rebels.

“I’m a homegrown candidate, fourth generation in this town and the Rebels are my favourite hockey team,” said Stephan. “I’m trying to differentiate myself from the other candidates who aren’t from here.”

Stephan declined to say how much he spent on signs. He plans to donate some of the wood to Red Deer’s Quest High School after the election.

Resident Patti Yackulic recently wrote a letter to the editor in the Advocate urging candidates to not waste their dollars on “those unsightly posters that densely populate the roadsides.”

“I kind of find them distasteful,” said Yackulic later. “There are so many you can’t see them, they’re a distraction when you are driving.”

Yackulic said she won’t base her vote on who posted signs and who didn’t. Issues are still important to her, but she is watching how much platform information candidates are divulging, including on the Red Deer Public Library’s online election forum.

“I think (the signs) get the job done because they remind people that there is something to vote about — it keeps it in front of their mind,” said Laura Brown, Red Deer voter and marketing manager of Mr. Sign.

Bart Fraser and his wife Jackie run City Screen, a Red Deer sign manufacturing company that is experiencing brisk business because of the election. It has done signs for 17 candidates through Central Alberta.

Fraser said its billboard signs run about $250. A 1.2-metre-by-2.4 metre sign runs for $40. Most candidates are spending between $300 and $700. To this point, candidates have only requested lawn signs.

“I haven’t hardly seen any election signs in Sylvan Lake, which I find quite odd,” said the Sylvan resident. “But it’s always been like that because people run more on their name.”

The City of Red Deer has rules on sign sizes, as well as where they can be posted. Sometimes, candidates run into trouble. Recently, about a dozen candidates posted signs outside a designated area, on northbound Gaetz north of 60th Street.

Elaine Vincent, election returning officer for Red Deer’s municipal race, said sometimes one candidate will incorrectly post a sign and then everyone else assumes it’s the right location, without checking the maps given to them.

A complaint comes in and the city investigates. Candidates are given 24 hours to remove the sign, and if it’s not removed after a second phone call is issued, Public Works staff will remove it.

Yzerman expressed frustration that some incumbents, including Flewwelling, have signs “that go out of bounds.” Flewwelling replied the locations can be “tricky” and that candidates aren’t doing it on purpose.

Vandalism is also a sore spot for candidates.

“It can sometimes be a full-time project,” said Vincent, regarding election sign maintenance.

The city’s bylaw requires election signs be removed 48 hours after the municipal election.