Airdrie - The call of a snap federal election last month put candidates into campaign overdrive during a polarizing time in world politics, and the result has been a high occurrence of campaign signs being vandalized in the Banff-Airdrie riding.
In a press release on Sept. 13, the Airdrie RCMP acknowledged the issue, and reminded residents that tampering with election signs could lead to criminal charges.
“This matter is being taken seriously and if offenders are identified, charges could be pursued,” the release stated.
People’s Party of Canada’s (PPC) Airdrie-Banff candidate, Nadine Wellwood, said she has seen more sign vandalism this year than during her previous campaign in 2019.
“We have had to go out and fix signs or remove signs that have been defaced or damaged constantly,” she said.
Wellwood said she believes this particular election carries a lot of political division due to the COVID-19 pandemic response from various levels of government, and the issue of personal rights and freedoms.
With emotions running high, Wellwood said the election will be an important way for voters to send a message, but she finds the vandalism of candidates’ signs to be disrespectful.
“I respect everybody’s rights to put out signs for a short period of time to share their message and allow people to decide,” she said. “To have anybody’s sign defaced or damaged is just disrespectful to the democratic process.”
On the same day Wellwood said a number of her signs were destroyed, she said Liberal candidate David Gamble’s were destroyed as well. While acknowledging their political differences, Wellwood said Gamble should be able to get out his message just as much as she does.
“Everybody has their chance to have their say at the ballot box,” she said. “People who support these parties, it’s their money being wasted when this happens.”
Gamble said there has been one instance where sign vandals were caught, but he didn’t feel the destruction of the signs was politically motivated.
“At least it didn’t seem like it,” he said. “But, our Liberal signs, particularly the large signs, have been damaged frequently, [and] we are constantly replacing them.”
He added the smaller campaign signs are often disappearing altogether.
Dealing with damaged and vandalized signage is something Gamble said is frustrating, as parties are spending a lot of money, time, and resources putting signs back up.
“It takes a lot of work to put the big signs up, especially,” he said. “That is done by volunteers. It’s not fair to our volunteers to be continuously doing that.”
On top of damaged signs, Gamble said he has dealt with a number of hostile residents, including a few altercations that sprouted from a forum that took place at the Airdrie Public Library on Sept. 8
Gamble said after the forum, candidates were allowed to set up in their own areas to chat with potential voters and tout their or their party’s platforms.
“I had at least four people where I had to ask library staff to remove them from my table, because they were harassing me,” he said. “One person in particular came back twice to stand and yell in my face. It was quite a new experience for me.”
Gamble said it is unfortunate there were a few people looking for an altercation, but he said the vast majority of people were not.
Another candidate who has been dealing with his signs being vandalized in Banff-Airdrie in recent weeks is Maverick Party candidate Tariq Elnaga. He said his team has let him know there were a number of signs spray painted, run over, shredded, or intentionally knocked down.
He added it is a lot less likely to be politically motivated, and more likely people who are being a bit rowdy.
“You can tell if it was the wind or If it was intentional,” he said. “It is unfortunate that it does happen, because these are not even our resources, but the resources of our campaign donors.”
With the Maverick Party being a new entity in federal politics, Elnaga said it has been important to get their message out to the people, and signage brings more attention to the party.
“More than anything, [sign vandalism] is an attack on democracy,” he said. “That makes me sad. There are a lot of men and women who died for you and I to live in a democratic society.”