At age 16, Canadian youth can operate a vehicle, be tried and sentenced as an adult, have a job and are required to pay taxes. Arguably, these teenagers are equally affected by the government’s policies as the rest of the Canadian population. Why, then, are 16-year-olds not allowed to vote in federal, provincial and municipal elections?
Voter apathy is a huge problem across the county. For May’s provincial election in B.C., the voter turnout of approximately 57 per cent (based on final Elections BC count) was among the lowest ever. It is well known that young Canadians are among the least engaged citizens in politics; why not entice youth to get involved by permitting them to participate in the political process at a younger age?
Allowing young Canadians to vote will give them a voice in how their country is run. It will also allow them to express their opinion about issues that concern them, such as education, public transportation, healthcare, employment and many more. Lowering the voting age also makes the government accountable to Canadian youth, and will require them to address the issues that most concern young Canadians. Moreover, allowing young people to participate in the political process can spark a commitment to life-long civic engagement.
A number of countries across the globe, including Brazil, Argentina, Cuba and Austria, have taken steps to lower the voting age. In 2007, Austria underwent electoral reform and changed their voting age to 16, which was accompanied by a reform of the civic and citizenship education in schools. Research from the University of Vienna shows that once this change was made, young Austrians began to take much more of an interest in national politics.
It is reasonable to believe that if the voting age was lowered in Canada, it could yield similar results. All grade 11 students in B.C. are enrolled in the mandatory Social Studies Eleven course, which teaches about Canadian history and our political process. This education could be put to practical use by allowing students aged 16 and older to exercise their right to vote, and encouraging them to do so as part of the curriculum.
To some, 16 may seem like too young of an age to be given such a great responsibility. However, guidance from instructors, family members and peers will be offered to these youth to ensure that they are well-educated on the options available to them before they participate in the electoral process. We want our Canadian youth to grow up in an environment where they are told that their voice matters, and giving them a say in how their city, province and country are run is the best way to communicate this message.
Canadian youth are the future of our country, and lowering the voting age could help make a habit out of voting from a young age that can persist for a lifetime. Allowing 16-year-olds to vote will help to shape them into well-informed and socially responsible adults, and it will empower them to impact change in the world around them.
What do you think? Should 16-year-olds be allowed to vote?
Written and researched by Jenna Hussein, a Political Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Follow Jenna on Twitter at @jennahussein.
Image: Jeff O’Neil