Less than two weeks after candidate signs began appearing along roadways and on lawns, an unpleasant election tradition has surfaced in St. Albert.
Destruction, vandalism and theft of election signs have hit at least 11 candidates in St. Albert.
Tash Taylor, a candidate for city council, estimates 60 of her election signs have gone missing since her campaign team started putting them up. On Thursday morning, she found the sign on her front lawn flattened down and smashed on the ground. Of the candidates who spoke with the Gazette, Taylor was hardest-hit.
“It’s not about the sign. It’s about how we try to make a community better when we’re trying to hurt other people in the process,” Taylor said.
“It comes with the cost of the election here … but I think we need to push back against this behaviour.”
Taylor, who ran in the 2015 byelection, says she was hit similarly hard at that time, losing more than 100 signs over the course of the byelection. Given the amount of signs she has lost, she says it’s possible someone has been targeting her signs.
With signs costing upward of $7 apiece, it’s not always financially feasible for candidates to replace signs that are stolen or damaged.
Councillor candidate Mark Kay found some of his signs destroyed earlier this week. One was broken in half and one into a few pieces.
With a small family and a small campaign, Kay says he can’t afford the cost of ordering new signs. As a result, he had to repair and re-use the damaged signs – although he’s keeping a sense of humour about it.
“I taped them together and put out the Frankensigns somewhere else,” he said.
Signs along roadways appear to be the most prevalent target, although signs on private property are sometimes a target as well.
Residents Don and Hulda Trider say a sign on their front lawn supporting candidate Sheena Hughes was stolen.
“The paper part of the sign was torn and taken away, and the metal frame was still left standing,” said Don, who added the couple has two other candidate signs that were left untouched.
“Not only was the sign vandalized, but somebody was up on my property doing mischief.”
Hulda says the most disturbing part of that is that someone was willing to commit a crime to target a candidate they disagreed with.
“(Election signs) are a part of democracy, and I think people lose sight of that when they do something like this,” she said.
“We have to value each other’s freedom to express.”
Hughes says she’s had a few supporters contact her whose signs have gone missing or were vandalized on their private property.
She says she accepts that sign theft and vandalism come with the territory of running in an election.
“I really try not to let this affect me,” she said.
Candidates have different ways of dealing with sign damage and theft. Some let it roll off their shoulders, such as Mark Cassidy, who found one of his signs in a garbage bin this week.
Cassidy says candidates should expect that to happen. He, like most of the other candidates the Gazette spoke with, has been helping other candidates by notifying them when signs are knocked over or vandalized.
Candidate Natalie Joly says she expects a 30 per cent loss in election signs. So far, she’s had a few go missing or be damaged.
“It’s something we plan for,” she said.
Candidate Gilbert Cantin, who has had eight signs vandalized and several more go missing, is offering a reward for information on who has been taking his signs and says the fact people steal election signs is a blow to democracy.
He estimates the cost of replacing signs will run him $700 or $800 more than he intended to spend.
“I was not well-known at the beginning of the campaign. We should be debating ideas, not signs,” he said.
Candidate Jan Butler says sign damage appears to be a combination of factors, including wind, which can knock over signs, construction areas and outright vandalism or theft.
She says she knows which ones have been vandalized because the plastic bases on her signs have been snapped.
“It’s mostly my little signs. Nobody has touched my big signs yet – that’s where I think it might change as it gets closer to election day,” she said.
She estimates she has lost around 30 signs so far.
But the impact of sign crimes has served to draw candidates together in one way. Many candidates have instructed their supporters to right any signs that have fallen over, regardless of who the sign belongs to, or notify candidates when they see damaged signs.
As of Thursday afternoon, the city had not received any complaints of vandalized or missing signs.
Although St. Albert RCMP were not available for comment at press time, Morinville RCMP sent out a news release Wednesday about mischief and theft of election signs in Sturgeon County.
“The RCMP are urging people to be respectful of the democratic process and to report anyone stealing or damaging the election signs,” the news release said.
“It is a criminal offence to destroy, damage or steal election signs.”