A formal complaint has been made to the City of White Rock about election advertising council candidate Ernie Klassen used during last weekend’s Sea Festival torchlight parade.
Decal lettering on a vintage Chevrolet Belair in which Klassen rode during the city-organized parade read “Vote For Ernie Klassen White Rock City Council.”
Wednesday Democracy Direct candidate Erika Johanson sent a complaint by email to the city stating that Klassen’s vehicle signs were “in violation of White Rock Bylaw No. 1923” (the city’s sign bylaw).
The bylaw states “Political Signs shall be displayed not more than 30 days before the date of a local government, provincial or federal election or referendum.”
“Please let me know what the repercussions will be for this flagrant violation of White Rock’s bylaw,” Johanson wrote.
On Wednesday, city communications manager Farnaz Farrokhi emailed Peace Arch News that the city will be looking further into the issue.
“The matter has been referred to the relative staff for their attention, as there should not have been signage that encouraged voting for someone,” she wrote.
However, Klassen told PAN Thursday he felt he had done nothing wrong.
“It’s a little bit of a surprise,” he said. “I checked with the organizers of the parade and was told that there was no problem.”
Klassen said he had since inquired about the issue with the city’s bylaw department, but takes issue with the car lettering being defined as a political sign.
“The bylaw’s definition of a political sign is that it’s erected to support the election of a political candidate – but this wasn’t an erected sign, this was rub-on lettering… I’m a bit perplexed.”
Farrokhi noted the sign bylaw is included in the nomination package binder provided to each candidate, “including a summary around general election signage rules.”
“Federal, provincial and civic incumbents can have signage showing which level of government they represent as long as they are not promoting their political party or have “Vote For…” on their signage,” she noted. “As with any complaint we receive regarding the City’s bylaws, staff will follow up on that complaint and use it as an opportunity to remind, educate, and/or fine the individual(s) for breaching that specific bylaw.”
Incumbent David Chesney said he rode in the back of another vintage car with fellow incumbent Helen Fathers, and that all other incumbent councillors had participated in the parade.
“We had the signage approved and supplied by the city that identifies us as councillors,” he said.
Fathers said Klassen “by the looks of it, made a rookie mistake – you’ve got to be careful to read the (nomination package).”
She said all candidates need to be vigilant about following election signage rules to ensure “a level playing field.”
“This is not really about Ernie to me, it’s about public perceptions and doing the right thing.”
She said that in the case of a close election, another candidate could contest the result on the grounds that their opponent had been given an unfair advantage.
“I understand Ernie gave away flowers during the parade – to somebody that could be classed as ‘vote-buying.’ It’s not really to the advantage of any candidate not to follow the rules.”
Klassen’s lettering did not, apparently, violate the BC Elections Act, however.
According to the Elections BC website the province “does not regulate where and when signs may be placed,” deferring to local governments.
(Editor’s note: the print version of this story erroneously described Klassen as a White Rock Coalition candidate. He has, in fact, not declared affiliation with any group.)