MLA Report: Lowering the voting age to 16 in BC

By Andrew Weaver

On March 13, I introduced for a third time a private member’s bill that would lower the voting age to 16. This is an opportunity for an important change in legislation would strengthen our democracy for those who it impacts most.

The voting age in British Columbia was not always 18. Federally, it wasn’t until 1970 that the Canada Elections Act was amended to drop the voting age from 21 to 18. In British Columbia we made the jump in two steps. First, in 1952 we dropped the voting age from 21 to 19, but it wasn’t until 1992 that we made the subsequent change to lower the age to 18.

Around the world, more and more jurisdictions are openly discussing the notion of dropping the voting age to 16, and, in fact, a growing number have actually done so. Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Scotland are but a few of the jurisdictions that have extended voting rights to 16-year-olds.

There’s ample evidence to suggest that the earlier in life a voter casts their first ballot, the more likely they are to develop voting as a habit throughout their lifetime.

Sadly, in the 2017 election, only 56 percent of youth aged 18-24 and only 46 per cent of young adults aged 25-34 voted here in British Columbia. Compare that to the provincial average of 61 per cent and to the 75 per cent of seniors aged 65-74 who voted.

It’s also a common misconception that 16-years-old are not as informed and engaged in political issues as older voters. The research, however, says otherwise.

Research shows that the cognitive skills required to make calm, logically informed decisions are firmly in place by age 16. Young citizens of British Columbia are old enough to drive, sign up for the military, work and pay taxes. Taxation without representation is generally counter to our democratic principles. That is, youth must pay the taxes but they are not allowed to vote for those who put in place laws that create them.

In my work as an MLA, I have interacted with many youth locally and around the province. Having spent many years as an educator and having presented to, or engaged in discussions with, high school students and classes across British Columbia on numerous occasions, I find it difficult to accept an argument that students are not mature enough or informed enough at age 16 to vote. Students today have access to information like never before; they are tech savvy and they know where to go to get information if they need it.

Today’s decision-makers don’t have to live the long-term consequences of the decisions they make and those who do are either not allowed to or are not participating in our democratic institutions. We can do something about the former by reducing the voter age to 16. After all, the youth of day are the leaders of tomorrow and they should have a say in the direction we are heading as they will inherit what we leave them in the years ahead.

B.C. should take this chance to strengthen our democracy and lower the voting age to 16. These youth should have a say in the direction we are heading, as they will inherit what we leave behind. They have the greatest stake in the future.

As always, I welcome your feedback and views. Please feel free to send your thoughts on lowering the voting age to me at: andrew.weaver.mla@leg.bc.ca.

Andrew Weaver is the MLA for Oak Bay-Gordon Head and the leader of the BC Green Party.

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