Several candidates in Calgary’s upcoming municipal election have experienced a rise in vandalism to signs and angry confrontations with voters in recent weeks.
Although sign vandalism isn’t rare for election campaigns, Zain Velji, the former manager for Naheed Nenshi’s 2017 campaign, said this election cycle has its differences.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything like the stories we’re hearing right now in terms of lawn signs — not just being vandalized, but being taken apart,” Velji said.
“This is starting to seem much more politicized, and perhaps born out of an anger or discontent rather than boredom, or spare time, which is what it’s largely been credited to in years past.”
Ward 6 city councillor and mayoral candidate Jeff Davison has reported several incidents to police after signs and his campaign office were vandalized.
One sign in particular referenced Davison’s six-year-old daughter after he spoke publicly about her kidney surgery, which had been cancelled at the Alberta Children’s Hospital when 75 per cent of surgeries were stopped to deal with the spike in COVID-19 patients.
Davison told Global News the vandalism began after he voted in favour of mandating the provincial proof-of-vaccination program in Calgary at a special meeting of city council last week.
“It’s a tough decision to have a young family and get into an election — you try to do your best to protect your kids from what’s going on out there in society,” Davison said Tuesday.
“When people cross a line, like has been done, and make your family a target of their anger, it’s inexcusable.”
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Fellow mayoral candidate Jyoti Gondek has also experienced an influx of signs vandalized in recent weeks.
It comes after 160 signs were stolen in the spring from various neighbourhoods in south Calgary.
“I’m very disappointed by it,” said Gondek’s campaign manager Stephen Carter.
“I guess in some ways I understand there is a tremendous amount of anger. This just isn’t the way to show it.”
Ward 8 city council candidate Cornelia Wiebe had a swastika marked on one of her signs, as more candidates continue to post photos of their damaged and defaced signs across the city.
However, that anger and frustration is also being felt at the doors, according to Ward 8 council candidate Courtney Walcott.
Walcott said door-knocking and campaigning has been an overall positive experience over the past eight months, but he called Monday night the “worst day” of his campaign.
Walcott said he was on the receiving end of racist and homophobic insults while campaigning at several homes, and said most of the anger starts with questions about his stance on the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of these feelings and expressions that people are seeing right now with regard to vandalism, hate, and even some forms of violence — for many people that’s a common experience,” Walcott told Global News.
“These are not unknowns to many people, and yet now these same types of aggression, this same type of violence, is being exposed to a much broader base because of our COVID situation and much more polarizing views on it, because it affects everybody rather than just a marginalized group.”
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Ward 6 council candidate Lana Bentley said she has also experienced some of that anger about the COVID-19 response and some decisions by city council while campaigning on doorsteps in her area.
“We have seen an escalation, people have been quite emotional in their frustration,” Bentley said.
“When somebody who resembles a politician shows up on your door, people are pretty motivated and hungry to be heard, and unfortunately how that feedback gets shared sometimes does have an aggressive edge to it.”
The recent incidents on the campaign trail are troubling for Velji, who believes it will be up to the next mayor and council to address in the hopes of improving the local political discourse.
There is concern the current anger and frustration could have downstream impacts in future municipal elections.
“There’s so many people, I suspect, that are observing these last two elections from the sidelines and saying, ‘I thought about it for a second to enter politics, but if it’s going to be like this, I might as well find something else to do with our time.’” Velji said.
“That’s a real shame to our democracy.”
Calgarians head to the polls for the municipal election on Oct. 18, with advance polls set to open as soon as Monday.
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