Tourism Oriented Destination Signage TODS

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Mar 15
[The untold story of how Ontario gave a monopoly on signage along 400 series highways to an American company. Excerpted from Don’t Back Down, the real story of the founding of the NHL’s Ottawa Senators and why big leagues matter available from]

There is a thing in Ontario called TODS,
Tourism Oriented Destination Signage. It is little understood by the general
public. Here’s what its website says:

(Tourism-Oriented Directional Signing) Program is being offered through the
Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport. This program permits qualifying
tourism operators to place their business signs along Provincial roadways.

-The TODS program
provides wayfinding and directional information to travellers throughout the Province of Ontario. Signs on the freeway display
the business name and icon or logo. Ramps, Kings Highway and Municipal Road signage include the turn
direction and kilometres to direct the motorist to the operation.

In actuality, TODS
is run by Interstate Logos, a subsidiary of billboard giant Lamar Advertising Co. Traded on NASDAQ (symbol: LAMR), Lamar is one the
largest outdoor advertising companies in North America. It is headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

When we were still in
the planning stages for the Palladium, it was always our intention to put large
signs on the outside of the building—not just for the arena’s name but for other
major corporate partners as well. When one of our development team told me that,
because of TODS, we would not be able to put signs anywhere within 400 meters
of a 400-series highway in Ottawa,
my first reaction was, “Are you kidding me?”

Next I asked, “Can you
please show me a drawing of the Palladium lands with a 400-meter buffer?”

When he showed me, I
realized that the new TODS rules would only allow us to have signs on the
south-facing side of our building. Anything else would run afoul of the new
rules, which meant we would lose visibility to over 100,000 vehicles a day
cruising the nearby highway. I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, now that
you are an advertising expert, what the value of our outdoor signage would be
worth after subtracting 3+ million views a month from our CPM calculations.

When I learned that Ontario had given all the rights to highly valuable
signage along 400-series highways in the province to a company out of Baton Rouge for ten years,
I was outraged. Of course, as an entrepreneur, we always obey the rules, right? No friggin way.

Here’s an old photo of
the arena when it was still Scotiabank
 Place. Notice anything on the Queensway-facing
(north) side? Any large partner signs? You sure do.


Advertising, What Advertising?

Every farmer, every
property owner along a 400-series highway in Ontario, has for a very long time had large
billboards on their lands that provide a much needed income booster. Billboards
that say, “Hamburglars ahead, 10 klicks” or “Bates Motel, Great Showers, next
exit”  have been around since before
infantile, lecherous and perpetually pubescent Groucho Marx said, “A man’s only
as old as the woman he feels.” Thankfully, the world has changed since Groucho
chauvinistically said this, but in some ways, it’s gotten worse. Read on.

I don’t have to tell
you how vast a billboard (and expensive it) has to be to be seen by cars
passing by at 100 kilometers an hour 400 meters away. The Ontario government, along with their US-based
partner, effectively expropriated adjacent property rights, but without

Taxation without
representation was one of the causes of the American Revolution so marvelously
recreated in AMC’s television series TURИ.
Expropriation without compensation is unconstitutional, not only in the US and Canada, but anywhere the rule of
law prevails. History has shown that, if you want to victimize a minority,
first seize their property, next make them homeless.

Former prime minister
Pierre Trudeau[2]
understood this when he fought to create the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms, which forms the first part of the 1982 Constitution Act[3].
He wanted to embed property rights in the charter, which was bitterly opposed
by its provinces.

How come?

The provinces wanted
unequivocal and unfettered control over riparian, air and subterranean rights
as well as zoning ordinances, casinos[4],
lotteries, and, of course, other lucrative things like signs along highways. If
you find oil or gas under your lovely ranch in Big Muddy Saskatchewan[5],
sorry brother/sister, you don’t own it, your province does. You don’t like the
fact that your city or your province is trying to cavalierly and without
adequate planning merits downzone your property from eight stories to four, too
bad. It’s expropriation without compensation, and you don’t have the right
under our charter to do anything about it.

I’ve found that
politicians tend to like two things—money and power, which are closely interconnected.
Provincial opposition to Mr Trudeau just confirmed that impression in a much
younger Prof Bruce. Sorry if I offend you.

Of course, politicians
and their handlers can spin anything their way. The TODS justification is
twofold—1. it is to get rid of clutter and “visual pollution” caused by private
billboards lining Ontario
highways, and 2. it is a safety measure to cut down distracted driving. As far
as the latter is concerned, maybe they ought to ban pretty girls or handsome
guys from walking within 400 meters of a 400-series highway as well—too much
driver distraction.

The other explanation
is also totally bogus. They could have regulated the look and feel of private
signage, no problem.

Nope, it’s just
another revenue grab.

Anyway, I’ll leave it
to a younger generation to find ways to attack, and repeal such restrictions, if
they feel so inclined.

The Sens made a
different argument—“If you arbitrarily take these revenue streams from our
team, we could go bankrupt, AND IT WILL BE ALL YOUR FAULT!”

Now hockey is as close
as Canada
comes today to a national religion. Like many developed countries, it is
moving, for good or ill I cannot say, to become a post-religious society. When
I was teaching in Sweden,
I was surprised to learn that 95% of Swedes, “Don’t believe in such things,”
referring to organized religion. Wow. Only the United States as far as I can tell
is resistant to such change, more American exceptionalism, I suppose.

So when you infer that
TODS and the Ontario government might be the cause of such a catastrophic
alteration in the Sens’ circumstances, they’ll find a way to make an exception,
write up a new arcane “regulation” in language so obtuse that no one other than
lawyers who specialize in crafting parliamentary law can read and understand
it, and then they’ll spin it out to the world via their PR machine.

Anywho, there is a ton
of outside signage at CTC, but it didn’t save the Sens from bankruptcy, which
I’ll deal with later.

[1] It’s official name is Canadian
TODS Limited.

[2] I met Mr Trudeau twice.
Once when I fought him in his son’s (Justin, now Canada’s 23rd prime
minster, having followed in his father’s footsteps) and my son’s (Andrew) dojo.
Trudeau was a black belt. Parents were invited to show their sons what they
were made of, and I was matched up with Pierre.
I thought I’d take it easy on the old guy. Man, he was strong. Pierre threw me twice before the dojo master
mercifully called a halt before he killed me. The other time, I played defense
on a recreational broomball team out on the ODR at Rockcliffe Park Public
School where I had my revenge, crushing him with a solid and illegal body
check. Canadians, like Aussies, don’t respect people just because they’re rich
or famous, not even if they’re PM.

[3] It’s important to realize
just how young a nation Canada
is. Formed in 1867 via the BNA, British North America Act, it wasn’t until 1982
that Canada became a truly sovereign nation, when Trudeau swept away most of
the remaining vestiges of British colonialism including the right to appeal
Canadian laws to the pretentiously named “Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy
Council” based in the United Kingdom (in London naturally). Canada remains a constitutional
monarchy, but in name only.

[4] Top malls in Canada and the US see sales in excess of $1,000
per square foot per year, with some like The Grove in LA owned by Caruso
Affiliated and built in 2002 averaging over $2,100 per square foot according to
CNBC. Casinos, on the other hand, will see sales of $5,000 per square foot per day. That’s right, per day. Not per
year. Governments like to keep all the best businesses for themselves. J

[5] I’m heading there in the
summer of 2016, hopefully, to stay on a ranch for a few weeks and write, Urban Nirvana and the Peradventures of Maddy
, a book about the worldwide NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) problem,
which is retarding economic development and adjustment in cities and towns
across the planet, interrupted by greedy, fearful people who don’t know
anything about urban development, design or economics. Why Big Muddy Saskatchewan? Because
that’s where Maddy Henderson is from. Sorry, you’ll have to read the book to
get it.

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.