Winnipeg school trustee wants to open voting to 16-year-olds, non-citizens

Mark Wasilyw, Trustee for the Winnipeg School Division.

Should teens have the right to vote in a municipal election? One Winnipeg School Division trustee thinks so.

Mark Wasilyw, who represents the Divison’s Ward 3, told 680 CJOB he’s pushing for electoral change in an effort to increase voter turnout and engagement in school board election.

“Our students have to live with the consequences of decisions we make,” said Wasilyw Monday morning.

“We know people aren’t voting in school board elections. There’s lots of research out there that once people start voting, it becomes a habit and they will vote again – but if you can’t get them voting the first time, nowadays, chances are they’re never going to vote.”

Wasilyw’s proposal, which he’ll be bringing to the school board Monday night, is that lowering the voting age to 16 means the electoral process can be a hands-on, structured part of the high school curriculum.

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More importantly, it gives them a voice on issues that will directly affect them.

“It could be a way to stem the tide of low voter turnout in Canadian politics,” he said. “It’s also fair, because they’re going to get a direct say into how their schools are going to be governed, and it’s going to make the trustees take them seriously.”

Wasilyw, a Winnipeg lawyer and past vice-chair of the school division, is also calling for opening up school board elections to non-Canadians who live in the relevant districts.

“The Winnipeg School Division has the largest newcomer population and it’s growing,” he said. “These are Winnipeggers who are not Canadian citizens, but live here, often own property, pay taxes here, and aren’t allowed to vote in school board elections.

“You can take an immigrant who’s been here for 30 years and simply hasn’t moved from permanent immigrant status to full citizen. They’ve paid taxes here 30 years, put all their kids through school here for 30 years, and can’t get a say.

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“There’s something wrong with that.”

Wasilyw said cottage owners in communities like Gimli or Winnipeg Beach are allowed to vote in municipal elections there despite only spending time there a few months a year, not using local schools, and not using any local businesses or government services except in the summer.

“This motion is to get the conversation started in Winnipeg,” he said. “Hopefully we can convince them this is a good idea and we need their help to do it.

“If they say no, they say no, but I think this is the way we start the conversation.”

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