Maple Ridge city council candidates are crying foul over the Maple Ridge First slate’s election sign advertising.
The team of Mayor Mike Morden and councillors Judy Dueck, Ryan Svendsen and Chelsa Meadus have an advertisement running on a digital billboard on the Lougheed Highway, just east of 240th Street.
Their political rivals say the sign is a contravention of the city’s election bylaw. It was amended by this council to say there should be no elections signs until 20 days prior to the election, which is set for Oct. 15.
“It’s a little bit backhanded,” said Craig Speirs, who is looking to return to a city council seat. “They have made this new sign bylaw, that’s really restrictive and benefits incumbents. That’s what it’s intended to do. And then they don’t even live by the spirit of it.”
He noted the electronic sign is on land owned by the Kwantlen First Nation, so it cannot be restricted by a city bylaw.
“I think it’s completely unethical, but it’s not illegal,” groused Speirs. He lost his seat in the last election, when he chose to run for mayor against Morden.
His opinion is shared by another former city councillor who was away from city hall for a term. Bob Masse, who chose not to run in 2018, said the electronic billboard ad is not fair.
“They made the sign rules that say we can’t do anything until a certain date, and now they’re circumventing them with a sneak,” said Masse.
There’s nothing wrong with the digital signage, according to Chief Election Officer for Maple Ridge, Patrick Hlavac-Winsor.
“We have looked into the location of the electronic message board – it is on First Nations land, and therefore outside of our jurisdiction for regulating signs under Sign Bylaw No. 7630 – 2020,” he said in an email.
Elections BC told The News it does not generally regulate election signs.
Incumbent Councillor Ahmed Yousef said he believes the advertising either violates a rule that says election signs can not be posted in other municipalities, or the city’s own 20-day limit prior to the election.
Candidates gathered at the Maple Ridge Library for campaign information, he explained. They were cautioned they are not allowed to post signs in another municipality. The specific example given was the large digital sign on the east bank of the Pitt River Bridge, as a form of advertising that is forbidden, because it is in Pitt Meadows.
So, he asks, isn’t First Nations land, where Maple Ridge’s city bylaws don’t apply, the same as a different municipality?
Morden said his team checked with the city prior to securing the digital billboard ad, and was advised that was no contravention of the local bylaw.
He said this sign opportunity has existed for several years, and has been utilized in other election campaigns.
Morden said council had feedback from citizens after recent elections, and also implemented a maximum of 300 signs per candidate.
“Over time we have seen a greater prevalence of sign volume,” he said.
“Recalling comments made during our review, notes about the move to more digital campaign platforms, complaints about littering the landscape, the desire to make elections more accessible and equitable to all, and that it was time for our city to look at limits. Our council did heed the concerns raised which resulted in a few changes, most notable being the reduction of signs from no limits to 300 maximum.”
“As is council’s usual practice, the bylaw will be reviewed post election by city council, with an opportunity for public feedback,” added Morden.
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