Should we lower the voting age in Canada?

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Columnist

On Thursday of last week an NDP MP from BC introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons. Now, private member’s bills are often some of the most interesting bills, as these tend to pertain to issues not under consideration by the official government but brought forward by those who simply think the time is right for these bills to become law. In this instance I was intrigued, as MP Don Davies’ Bill C-213 would lower the federal voting age in our country to sixteen.

Now, on the face of it this might seem a bit absurd, except that other countries, including ones like Scotland, have already lowered their voting age. Traditionally we have considered 18 to be the legal voting age, except that it wasn’t always 18 and once you had to be 21 to vote.

And traditionally, if one goes back just a little way in our history, you also had to be white and male to vote, as women and First Nations people could not exercise that basic right of democracy. Who gets to vote – and at what age – has always been subject to change, and MP Davies is now suggesting another change.

First, let’s talk about what 16 year olds can do currently in our country: they can drive, they can hold employment (and in turn have taxes deducted from their earnings) and they are most certainly making decisions about their immediate future, including their education and careers.

A federal election held today and electing a government that will be in power for 3-4 years will have an impact on the life of a 16 year old as they head towards post-secondary education and our workforce, becoming taxpayers and part of our economic landscape. So doesn’t it make sense to give them the opportunity to have a say in that direction since they already have a stake in it?

As the parent of a 16 year old, I also know that youth of that age are frequently more politically astute than we realize, and if given the chance will embrace the opportunity to become more engaged and active in the democratic process.

As the parent of a 16 year old, I also know that youth of that age are frequently more politically astute than we realize, and if given the chance will embrace the opportunity to become more engaged and active in the democratic process. Given that on occasion we struggle with political engagement the ability to involve even more of our citizens in politics, particularly our youth, should be considered. Studies suggest that engaging citizens in democracy at younger ages results in a lifelong habit of exercising the right to vote, in turn leading to increased voter engagement over the long term.

There are those who will decry this idea and suggest that 16 year olds are still children, although given the state of our society and the world in which these young adults live I would argue that fact, or not in tune with politics or the issues.

The sad truth though is that many adults who can legally vote and who do vote are also not in tune with politics or the issues, as anyone who has worked on a political campaign can attest (try explaining the difference between municipal, provincial and federal governance to a 40-year old to understand what I mean).

So, the argument that this would add to our pool of uninformed voters is a bit absurd as we already have uninformed voters filling out their ballots and this should not be used as a reason to exclude others (although just for the record this was used as reasoning to keep women from voting, too).

They often show an interest in politics and in the direction of the nation, and there is a chance that if we hook them when they are young they will keep voting, increasing our voter turnout and hopefully encouraging others to vote as well.

It is an idea worthy of consideration. A 16 year old has just as much stake in governance as an 18 year old. They are, in many instances, already contributing to our economy through their spending habits, their employment and in the near future their post-secondary education plans.

They often show an interest in politics and in the direction of the nation, and there is a chance that if we hook them when they are young they will keep voting, increasing our voter turnout and hopefully encouraging others to vote as well.

Other countries have already taken the lead on this and set precedent, and now the opportunity to do the same is before us. Will we lower the voting age? I don’t know, but I do know that part of democracy is being able to consider and debate such concepts, like the one that ended in giving women the right to vote. Our ability to change and to adapt to the times is part of the joy of democracy, and it is with delight I watch the process unfold, no matter the eventual outcome.

– Connect Weekly –