Campaign Trail Mix: Read the Signs

Campaign Trail Mix logoEditor’s Note: Welcome to Campaign Trail Mix, the Cape Breton Spectator’s weekly round-up of municipal election-related news and views with the odd non-campaign item thrown in to keep things interesting. We still have a few bugs to work out — like the logo, which I made yesterday morning in GIMP and which is no doubt giving the graphic designers among you heart palpitations — and the timing — in future, it should go out on Saturday mornings — but the important stuff is sorted. By which I mean the content, which I will be producing in conjunction with new Spectator contributor Stephen Antle (bio below). We hope you enjoy our take on CBRM politics and if you see something you think we should be discussing, say something!


Signs of life

It is municipal election season in CBRM and signs, signs everywhere signs.

Cape Bretoners LOVE signage! Whether is to celebrate a pandemic graduation “Congratulations Tyler on Passing Grade 12” or the ubiquitous sharpie-on-cardboard, stapled to telephone poles “24’X24’ garage package $14,999.00,” we will erect a sign for damn near anything. Animal grooming, worms for sale, roofers, you name it, there’s a slightly annoying sign for it somewhere in CBRM. A personal favorite dates to the ’70s as you left Sydney Mines and were greeted by a road sign proclaiming “You are now entering Florence!”

It’s a passion that goes to the next level during election campaigns.

The advent of online/telephone voting means we won’t be driving to the polling station, so there is little chance of winning over that voter who decides to vote for the last election sign they see before entering the poll. How, then, does the candidate campaigning in the “new normal” pierce the din and effectively market themselves? Electioneering is nothing if not an exercise in personal brand marketing. Digital content runs the gamut from “Candidates in Cars Getting COVID Coffee” (mask-free vehicular interviews) to Facebook Live lob-ball Q & A’s. The election issues are the same — only different. Social Media is the low-hanging marketing fruit of the modern campaign. But I digress, back to old school campaigning: CBRM election signs.

Some say election lawn/road signs are about as effective as standing on the street yelling your own name through a rolled up Cape Breton Post. Those who say such things are what we like to call “mainlanders.” Because here in good ol’ CB, we heart emoji election signs.


Location, location, location

Some notable signs from this campaign include incumbent District 4 councilor Steve Gillespie’s sign on Kenwood Drive. Putting your sign next to the worst stretch of broken asphalt on Mount Kenwood serves, unfortunately, as an effective reminder of what didn’t get done. (Although I’m told there is a redesign of the whole bottom of Kenwood in the works so perhaps fixing that road might have been a waste of resources…perhaps.)

Steve Gillespie election sign


To pose or not to pose

As previously stated, running for elected office is a master-class in marketing your personal brand. Your candidate brand is defined by your reputation, policies, credentials — and look. Selecting the right photo to nail to a tree in Balls Creek is a big decision, and if most candidates are like me, they have serious self-esteem issues, so finding a picture of yourself taken since 2017 that you like is a struggle.

All candidates have at least one photo for public consumption. This year’s photo gallery features facial expressions ranging from “I didn’t know the photo shoot was TODAY!!” to “I received horrible news moments before this picture was taken.” Toss in some high school yearbook poses and you have the 2020 candidates for CBRM council.


Signage to silage

Way back in 2019, before the invasion of the wet-wipe guards and hand-sanitizer monitors, there was a federal election campaign, and in an effort to get a story on Live at 5, seriously windswept Ryan MacDonald of CTV did a piece entitled “Cape Breton councilor says election sign not very green.” That councilor-turned- mayoral candidate, Amanda McDougall, once opined that signs were:

Plastic on the outside, styrofoam on the inside, you really can’t recycle them. So what happens is essentially, they end up in the landfill.

Now, as a serious candidate for mayor, McDougall has once again embraced the sign. Her bespectacled visage adorns numerous signs across CBRM. On close inspection, it’s hard to tell the nature of the materials contained in the signage and frames, but my sources tell me they are designed to spontaneously decompose on October 18, falling into neat piles of compost, free for the taking for residents of the regional municipality.

Amanda McDougall sign

Source: Facebook


Good intentions

Elections are exciting because they give candidates the opportunity to dream big, to solve every major municipal issue, to swing for the fences! I have read numerous platforms filled with frustration at the perceived foot dragging, secrecy and lethargy of past mayor and council. If elected, many of these folks have a super-busy Day One in store, fixing the system, reorganizing the priorities, Making CBRM Great Again. But I say, wait until the reality of governance washes over the newly elected and see what happens to the pace of change.

To all current candidates please remember this (because it is true): You can always tell a Cape Bretoner, but not much.



Mayoral candidate Chris Abbass is certainly making waves in this campaign with almost daily social media manifestos on the things he would do in his first 24 hours in office. His sign game is also quite strong and by strong I mean, fortified. Abbass and his team have used enough lumber to build affordable housing units across CBRM.

Chris Abbass Mayoral Sign

Photo by Stephen Antle.



I view the title of this feature — Campaign Trail Mix — as a license to throw pretty much anything I want in here, so I’d like to end with a “Seen in CBRM” item involving recycling.

Our blue bag, compost, lift-and-separate culture has produced entrepreneurial opportunities all over the place. From the Resource Recovery Fund Board to street-driving bottle-pickers, people see recycling as basically free money.

I must confess, I come from a bottle-picking background myself. My dad and I drove the roads when we went fishing or to get wood and would watch for beer bottles. Back in the ’70s, people used to drink and drive. Not just drinking somewhere then driving — I mean, actually putting the “bar” in bar car. The only activity to rival drinking while driving was  littering while driving. So there was money in dem dere ditches and culverts.

1986 Pontiac Parisienne

1986 Pontiac Parisienne, an unlikely Green icon.

Which brings me to something I witnessed in the Shipyard one evening last week. A great new system by a bottle-picking duo working the blue bags. Instead of burning gas driving up the No Exits of the Shipyard, one picker would walk to the end of the street, pen and paper in hand, noting any desirable curbside offerings. If the pickings were good, the car would make the trip.

Think about it: it’s the Everyman’s Green New Deal. Recycling entrepreneurs reducing operating costs while cutting carbon emissions (which were considerable, as the vehicle appeared to be a late ’80s Parisienne).

Hats off to them!




Stephen Antle


For the past 30 years Stephen Antle has been auditioning potential employers looking for the right fit. Nothing has stuck so far but along the way he has been a performer, TV host, lobster fisher, management consultant, producer, house painter and currently works in the digital marketing space.






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