Lawn signs are stupid and should be banned

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I have to say, before you start reading this, that quite frankly, this is the most important column I’ll ever write, I think.

At least, it feels this way right now, midway through an election campaign.

To be clear, I’m at least 80% serious, 19 times out of 20.

Here goes.

I have a modest proposal.

We should ban lawn signs.

Just ban them, utterly and totally.

I’ve been on the phone for hours of my life this month arguing with City officials about signage for my candidates, and, I’m sorry, but I’m done.

I’ve debated putting a face on a sign and argued over balancing ligatures and font sizes until I’m blue in the face (even if the sign is red).

I’ve negotiated for free metal H-frames for small signs and to get large signs for under $4.90 a piece.  I’ve bought in bulk and switched designs at the last minute to just one colour to save costs.

I know that the best place in the GTA to buy the wooden stakes for large signs is the L’Arche in Richmond Hill, where adults with special needs work in “The Woodery” and make a quality product.

But, all this knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years is useless to me outside of election campaigns.

And, I have to say, enough is enough.

This is my mid-municipal-campaign jeremiad.

Lawn signs are stupid.

There are certain sayings in politics that are conventional wisdom.

One of them is “signs don’t vote”.

The fact is—they don’t.

I say this with due apologies to all the union guys, retired gentlemen and every single candidate who wants to see their face on that corner lot on their drive home from the campaign office.  I see you and I love you and I value the hours you’ve spent in traffic installing signs, the smashed thumbs and the curses.  You do the Lord’s work, I’m just not sure you should have to.

Because — again, I’m sorry — lawn signs are a waste of time, money and are a burden on every campaign manager’s mental health, already a fragile thing.

Lawn signs, as I see it, at best do three things, and not very well.  They help get a candidate’s name out there.  They sometimes help residents gauge who is in the lead, a sort of neighbourhood straw poll.  And they give a task to the handymen on a campaign who aren’t so keen on knocking doors or making phone calls to talk to complete strangers.

But, statistically, they are found to be practically useless.  As reported by The Washington Post, use of lawn signs has more than quadrupled between 1984 and 2012, yet their statistical impact is less than 1.7%, at best.

They’re ineffective and they’re expensive.  Even a campaign with a small sign budget is still paying over $5000 — which represents nearly 10% of a ward campaign budget.  With the tight spending limits we have in Canadian politics,10% of your budget is a huge amount of fiscal room.  That’s 10% of the budget for at best a 2% return at the ballot box.  No thank you.

Last week, Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna announced plans for the Government of Canada to begin phasing out plastics, working with the private sector to eliminate straws and other plastic goods.

She should turn her attention to banning lawn signs, massive pieces of chloroplast that end up in landfills or lining the tomato gardens years later of green-thumbed and inventive supporters looking to reuse an otherwise useless piece of campaign memorabilia.

Minister McKenna should do something: she should ban lawn signs.  This is an interference in a municipal election from another level of government I think we could and should all get behind, am I right or am I right?

Anyway, that’s my rant.

Now, if anyone needs me, I need to get back to organizing a midnight sign blitz for a ward council race.  It’ll be a lot of fun to get over 1000 signs up and to see the look on my opponent’s face the next day when we lay claim to his neighbourhood over night.

God, I love lawn signs.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Jonathan Scott   @J_Scott_

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