Two town council candidates believe rules weren't clear about the size of election signs they were allowed to place before the municipal election started, and between the two of them are out-of-pocket over $2,500, and have lost valued promotional tools.
Morgan Nagel and Dan Cunin say they were informed by town officials that some of their signs had to be removed because they were too large to place town public land. They were also too large for provincial highway right-of-way.
Nagel says the town did say there would be size limits for highway signs, but it wasn't until two days after the election started that the candidates were notified the same size limit would apply to signs on town public property.
Had he known, Nagel says he would have ordered smaller signs and had no intention of breaking the rules. He has pressed the issue with town administration a few times and said he would apologize if they could show him where it was clearly stated.
"As far as I can see, this was never communicated to candidates before the election starting, and I haven't been given a sufficient answer about that."
He says he's not only out $1,500 but will likely be unable to replace the five signs because they take weeks to develop.
He believes the complaints must have been lodged by the team of another candidate.
"It was never explicitly said who was complaining, but it would have to have been someone who was extremely well versed in the town's election sign bylaws, so I'm willing to guess that it's somebody from a campaign or somebody close to a campaign that has read the rules thoroughly."
According to the Alberta Government's elections website, signs are to be no more than 1.5m square on the highway right-of-way. Those not complying are subject to removal by Alberta Transportation without notice or compensation.
Returning officer Jaylene Knight says the town opted to apply the same rules to signs on municipal public land.
She says the approach to elections and campaigning has seen a significant change this time around.
"Our application of protocols with respect to campaign signage this election has not changed from previous elections, though the interest and activities of candidates have," says Knight. "That said, information was shared with candidates surrounding campaign sign parameters ahead of the close of nominations, though we can appreciate it may not have been understood clearly by some until concerns and complaints were received and clarification was provided."
As much as Cunin disagrees with the final decisions made, he believes the people involved are doing the best they can. He says it's a challenging set of circumstances for decisions that might not even be their own and perhaps are being influenced by other senior officials.
"The fact is that the town has made their decision and talks to present solutions and compromises have fallen on deaf ears. My hope is that this becomes a memory and a motivator to start my work on ensuring transparency, accountability, and fairness in all aspects of town council operations."
"Work needs to be done absolutely, and I've loved to be part of that. Since 2013, I've been talking about transparency and accountability, including elections, and I've got some great ideas."
Cunin came within seven votes of being elected in 2017.
He says he appreciates how Alberta Transportation crews handled the situation but it left him wondering where the complaint originated, and how high up the ladder it came from.
"I got a clear message about how high this went," says Cunin. "I work for the government, and I know when it gets high enough it quickly becomes not, are you're doing to do something, it's how fast you're going to do something."
He points out signs of identical size were used by multiple candidates in the recent federal election.
"Now, here I am acting with the best knowledge, not knowing there's an issue, and then suddenly rules are being made as the election goes on."
Candidate Bruce Townley had five or six of his signs mistakenly removed from the highway right-of-way by Alberta Transportation, but they have since been returned to their locations.
Townley says Transportation officials were quick to recognize the signs were appropriate in size and reached out to Townley to apologize. He says the rules were clear from the start on the size requirements.
"The bottom line is the rules were very clear to me, and I'm not sure how they weren't for the other candidates."