On this week’s episode of Global News’ original podcast, This is Why, we take a closer look at whether Canada should lower the voting age to 16 from 18.
Earlier this week, Calgary City Coun. George Chahal put forward a proposal to have the Alberta government explore the idea of lowering the voting age in municipal elections to 16 from 18 years of age.
Council backed his proposal with a 7-6 vote.
Chahal said 16-year-olds aren’t children, they are young adults.
“You can enroll for the Armed Forces at the age of 16. With parental consent, you can actually fight for your country at 17. You can hold a job and pay taxes. In Alberta, you can actually start working at the age of 12.”
The Ward 5 councillor said other countries have lowered their voting age and youth today are very engaged.
“I’ve seen so many amazing and brilliant kids out there and they just want to get involved and I think this, at a municipal level, is a way to get them involved and get them participating in our democracy.”
Calgary City Coun. Peter Demong voted against the proposal and believes that any changes to the voting age will cause more problems.
“For me, there have always been certain levels of maturity that we have ascertained at certain ages. At 14, you’re able to get a part-time job, at 16 we feel you’re mature enough to drive and to give permission to have sex or not, 18 is where we universally consider you an adult. … We set these stages up, so why would we play with them?”
However, this is not a new debate. When the voting age was lowered to 18 from 21 in 1970, many Canadians were already discussing whether we should stop there. And for almost 50 years, that debate has been ongoing.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley, Canada’s Chief Electoral Officer from 1990 to 2007, says there are two simple questions we must ask ourselves.
“Is a 17-year-old person able to make an informed decision during an election and vote? Is that person able to say, ‘This is what I want for the development of my country and this is in my best interest?’ This is what voting is all about,” Kingsley says.
There have been arguments to suggest that young people aged 16 and 17 may not understand the significance of their vote, but Kingsley says it is all about our responsibility as a society to help them.
“We’re not providing through our educational system, sufficient information for those people to determine. They have to do it on their own, if they are interested.”
But what about the teenagers’ perspective?
Liam Christy is 17 and recently brought a petition to lower the voting age to his local MLA. The Kamloops, B.C., student says that 16-year-olds are mature enough to make their own opinions.
“Teenagers, we do get taxed. Albeit a little less than adults, we still pay taxes and we should have some sort of a say at least as to where those taxes are going.”
John O’Dowd is a co-producer of This is Why.