Listen Up! From election signs to party fundraising rules, political self-interest is rampant this week

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Hugh Mackenzie Huntsville Doppler

Hugh Mackenzie
Huntsville Doppler

Political Self-Interest

It was a bit of an eye opener in the past week or so, to be reminded by all three levels of government how self-serving some politicians can be once they hold office.

In Huntsville, Mayor Scott Aitchison has proposed that the Town ban municipal election signs in the future. It is a very “green” idea and bound to be popular in some quarters. It is also self-serving and hypocritical. During the last election campaign, the Mayor was offered the chance by another candidate (yes, that would be me) to forgo election signs as all three candidates were relatively well known and there was no incumbent who would have an advantage. He thumbed his nose at that idea.

There is no doubt that signs during an election period, especially when it is prolonged, is a form of environmental pollution. Councillor Dan Armour hit the nail on the head however, when he pointed out that there is another side to this story and that is incumbents on Council would have a distinct advantage if election signs were totally banned.

Elected officials enjoy a high profile in the community and that is how it should be. However, elections are intended not only to hold incumbents accountable, but also to allow new people an opportunity to serve. Often, these folks, especially those seeking election for the first time, do not have the same community profile as those already in elected office.

Election signs can and do play an important role in raising these profiles. It also helps to ensure an even playing field. I expect blowback on this one but at the end of the day I think Councillor Armour is right. To ban municipal election signs would be self-serving and unfair to new candidates.

At the Provincial and Federal levels, it was almost amusing to watch the various political parties dance around the serious issue of fundraising and influence peddling. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has suddenly become the shining white knight, determined to clean this decades-old mess up with one sweep of her legislative hand. Again, laudable on the face of it but self-serving in fact. After all, one did not hear a peep out of the Premier about reforming election and party fundraising laws until she had made sure her own coffers were overflowing.

Only a few days before her ‘conversion,’ Premier Wynne hosted her annual dinner for high rollers where tables sold for as much as $18,000 each. That single event netted the Premier’s party $2.5 million. And then of course there were the private dinners hosted by the Premier for really big bucks from the corporate community, to say nothing about using a recent by-election to raise funds totalling many times more than the actual amount of money the Party was allowed to spend in the campaign. In by-elections alone, the Liberals have raised over $6,700,000, more than double the Conservatives and NDP combined. With polls showing the Wynne Government’s popularity at 26 per cent this can’t be because they are loved. It has to be all about influence and self-interest.

To be clear, all of this is currently legal, but it still encourages influence peddling and it is still self-serving and again, somewhat hypocritical, to come out swinging the reform banner only after you have ensured your back is well covered financially for the foreseeable future.

Ontario Tory leader Patrick Brown has recently called for a comprehensive public inquiry into the awarding of government contracts, grants and contributions to corporations and their entities who made donations to the governing Liberals. Of course it won’t happen and for that Brown should be happy. After all, it is a little like the teapot calling the kettle black. The Tories have used similar tactics when in government and both the Conservatives and the NDP have made full use of the current laws for fundraising.

The Feds are no better. Just look at a comment made by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould about her attendance as the main attraction at a private fundraiser for the Liberals, sponsored by a law firm. She said she was there as an M.P. and not as Justice Minister. Really? She is there with a bunch of lawyers who paid $500 bucks a pop to see her and she thinks they don’t know she is the Minister of Justice? Does she really think they would all turn up in Toronto with their cheques just because she is a Member of Parliament from Vancouver? And you can bet your boots that the Minister was there with an assistant who took notes about comments and requests from folks who put out good money to have face time with her. It all kind of stretches the old credibility scale, doesn’t it?

Of course, it is well past time to have comprehensive political financing reform at all three levels of government including at the municipal level. How refreshing it would be, however, in this instance as well as in other issues, if more politicians thought less about looking after their own self-interest and more about looking out for the interests of the people they are elected to serve.

7 Comments

  1. Election signs can be controlled by the Council passing a bylaw that prohibits signs on Municipality owned lands. I mean all signs, garage sale, event, business promotion signs the list goes on. Election signs and all other signs to be placed on Private property only. That would certainly keep our town much cleaner and cut down on environmental pollution in all seasons not just election season.
    Regarding your other political points. She or he who has the power controls the gravy train, there are always many wanting to ride. Ontario unions seem to be at the front of the line. All Aboard!

  2. I think Dan Armour is correct in his opinion about election signs. I do think it’s self serving for a sitting politician to try and restrict them. Whenever I hear about a plan to somehow restrict the democratic process whether it is the voting process or election signs I get worried. The reality in our process is that regardless of platforms and debate our elections are still somewhat of a popularity contest. A relative newcomer to the public scene is at a distinct disadvantage. To state that there are other forums available (such as social media) to candidates to get their message out does not substitute for other forums, as not everyone uses them . These platforms compliment the process, they shouldn’t be used to restrict another part of process.
    Elections happen every 4 years and we need to put up with it. Pass a bylaw that deals with how quickly signs must be down after election day if you like but that’s as far as this should go in my opinion. In the last election I was up against two opponents who were vastly more well known than I was. Election signs were an integral piece of my campaign, along with brochures and social media. I believe the mayor also had employed buttons and t-shirts in the last election, so we have lots of options to introduce ourselves to the voting public.
    I believe our election process is central to our democracy. Elections should be free and fair. Any attempt to put restrictions on this process can only be viewed as attempting to tilt the playing field in favour of one candidate over another, in my opinion.

  3. Jeremy Bessey on

    I agree with Mr. Aitchison. Election signs are a blight on our beautiful town, even if it’s only for two months every four years. When I ran for office in 2010 I purposely had a limited number of signs to try and reduce my impact on that blight. I suggested at that time that election signs be eliminated.

    I am a little confused on the argument that newcomers need the signs to get their message out. What message is that? I like green, blue or red?, My name is nice looking in this font? I care about this street because I put a sign here?

    I believe an election requires work from both sides. It is up to the candidate to share with the public their qualifications, experience and platform. It is also the responsibility of the voter to seek out information on what candidate will represent their best interests. A sign does neither of those things.

  4. So help me understand, Jeremy, why did you have any signs at all when you ran? Did you think that there was some value in letting people passing by become aware that you were even in the race? Maybe then they would go online to read your platform and learn about your ideas and vision?
    I note that most signs, mine included, had a website address on it for that very purpose.
    Let’s agree that an election campaign is also an advertising campaign. Let’s also agree that the majority of citizens are, for the most part, disengaged in the process.
    One must be able to choose as many avenues at their disposal to become known, not only for what they stand for, but that they’re even in the race. By eliminating, arguably, the most visible, if not blatant, form of advertising would most certainly give a leg up to an incumbent candidate.

    • Jeremy Bessey on

      Tim, valid point. I did want people to see my name and as a newcomer, it seemed like the natural action to take, as all the other candidates I was running against had signs. Technology has changed. Back in 2010 internet access was not as good as it now and social media is more prevalent in many people’s lives. There are more tools available to candidates.
      I would surmise that many citizens’s would like to do without elections signs. I believe it is time to look at the issue more in-depth.
      Perhaps asking all the candidates who have run over the last few elections their thoughts on the matter would paint a better picture of how important they really are.
      Huntsville is a progressive town, here is a chance to show it.

  5. It is supposed to be a free country and these signs are supposed to be privately funded by the candidate, right?
    So if you love looking at our roadsides so much that a few signs offend, maybe we could restrict the duration of exposure to the signs.
    I remember some years back, the municipal election was to be in Nov. but Janet Peak, Lake of Bays Mayor at the time, had her signs out in July or August! Now that was not necessary!
    I’d say to allow signs according to the current rules, but only for 4 weeks ahead of the election, maybe less for a little election like a municipal one, and all signs have to be down with 24 hours of the election day ending.
    If we can’t live with this we are just petty whiners!

  6. I don’t disagree Jeremy. My point is, is that one method shouldn’t eliminate the others. Each candidate can choose their own best option to get elected. Some will get t-shirts and buttons, another pens and brochures. Should you have a website page or a Facebook page, or both? I don’ t personally do Facebook but was told I had to if I was running. If competing candidates agree amongst themselves to restrict using any format while running that’s ok I guess, but what happens if somebody breaks the agreement because they feel they’re falling behind?
    Does passing a bylaw to restrict any format open itself up for a Charter challenge? What about freedom of speech and expression?
    You surmise that many may like to do away with signs, this may be true, but just like negative campaigning, it may be disliked, but study after study shows that it is still really effective. Especially in the US.

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