Bill to Amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age)

Second Reading--Debate Continued

December 8, 2020


Honourable senators, I rise today to support Bill S-209, which aims to lower the voting age to 16. This bill is in complete alignment with the Senate’s constitutional mandate to protect minorities who lack representation in Parliament, such as youth and future generations. Before me, Senator McPhedran, Senator Mercer, Senator Miville-Dechêne, Senator Omidvar and Senator McCallum have, with eloquence, given reasons and arguments in support of lowering the voting age to 16. These solid arguments include the following: young people already have many adult responsibilities, but are denied the same rights; they are expected to follow the law but have no say in making it; and they are already participating in politics despite attempts to dismiss them from the political process, even when they make conscious, wise voters.

Lowering the voting age will help increase voter turnout and will improve the lives of youth. In a democracy, we don’t deny people the vote because we think they might vote against one’s ideas; universal suffrage is the right of all citizens and the ability to vote should not be taken away lightly or arbitrarily. Finally, legislation to lower voting age has strong support around the world, and voting laws are changing to reflect that with positive results. Indeed, when the voting age has been lowered to 16, young people have shown interest in voting in Norway, Scotland and Austria.

As you know, knowledge and experience are not criteria for voting eligibility.

Seventeen-year-old Amélie Beaulé pointed out:

The argument that we’re not wise enough to elect our leader is puzzling. Wisdom is the human quality of aspiring to knowledge and understanding while knowing how to keep an open mind. If we lack wisdom, then why do we have the right to drop out of school at 16?

In 2017, the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary chose “youthquake” as their word of the year, defined as a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.

Indeed, people under the age of 18 have won a Nobel Prize, reached the summit of Mount Everest, conducted cancer research, became published authors, taught graduate-level courses in nuclear physics, ran their own schools, worked for NASA and risked their lives almost every day to save others.

According to a 2019 Abacus poll, young Canadians between 15 and 30 years old prioritize solving global “. . . challenges such as climate change, profound demographic change, economic transition and disruption, and the rise of extremism and political polarization around the world . . . . ”

Young Canadians are well aware of these challenges that have disproportional impacts on them, but since young people are under-represented in politics, these issues affecting them are under-represented as well.

Aya Arba, from Gatineau, is a wonderful example. She is a Grade 9 student who is involved in her school community and loves history, politics, science and astronomy. She said, and I quote:

The climate crisis, human rights, social and economic inequities — there are so many issues on which the country would do well to listen to us. I think a lot of us are ready to vote, since we’re much more aware and informed on the main issues in our country, even more so than our parents and grandparents were at our age. Thanks to the internet, we have all the information in the world at our fingertips. It’s not uncommon to see kids as young as 14 talking about politics and sharing their views in a somewhat idealistic eagerness to make a difference.

Solène Tessier, from Montreal, echoed that sentiment, saying, and I quote:

I have been a social activist since I was a child. When I was four years old, I sang to raise funds for a women’s shelter. In kindergarten, I was the representative for the school’s green committee, and I’ve been involved in student life at school ever since. When I was eight years old, I marched for women. In 2012, I marched in the red square movement with my mother, banging pots and pans, to defend my future and my right to education. I was the one who convinced my father to protest as well. I was 10 years old. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work for various causes. When I was 15, I spent three hours every week at the hospital keeping patients company. It was at that age that I began developing my own values and political opinions. I listen to the National Assembly debates from time to time. Sometimes they talk for a long time, but it’s not so bad. At 17, I became a youth climate leader for ENvironnement JEUnesse. I give presentations in schools. I’m motivated by hope, the hope of a green, healthy future where I will be comfortable in my community, and I sincerely believe that we will get there together. It’s such a wonderful vision for society.

As an engaged young person, it’s hard not to be able to vote. We use our voices, we demand action, but we can’t participate in that action by voting for the people who must carry it out. Without a political presence, our voices are not being heard. If we don’t feel heard, we will not feel motivated, even though everyone congratulates us for our involvement and our petitions. Climate change is very far off for older people who will not fully experience it. Today’s voters are not voting in the interests of youth; they’re concerned about what affects them in the here and now.

We, the youth, will live with the real-life consequences of climate change. If we all have to wait until we are 18 to have the right to vote and demand more action from governments, it will be too late to manage the consequences. Young people would be less anxious about their future if they weren’t just spectators of politics. I would have liked to vote in the last federal election, which would have been possible if 16 was the voting age. And I would have preferred to vote in a mixed member proportional system. Instead, I got involved with Extinction Rebellion Canada, and I’m taking part in direct actions because I feel like I can’t have an impact otherwise. When I get involved, my anxiety drops a lot and it gives me hope. And it’s working, it got the climate crisis on the show Tout le monde en parle.

Solène turned 18 this summer. She’s been contributing to society for 14 years, but she hasn’t yet been able to vote.

Her concerns are also echoed by Zoe Keary-Matzner and Sophia Mathur from Ontario.

Zoe Keary-Matzner, 13 years old, said:

Young people’s futures are being destroyed by the older generations. We do not have a say in the decisions governments are making about our own future. That is why we protest, because it is the only thing we can do to protect ourselves. It would be nice to decide our own futures for once, so if the voting age were lowered, we could make our voices heard and have a say in government decisions.

Zoe wants to study animal behaviour as an ethologist one day, but she is scared about what biodiversity loss will mean for her career plans.

Sophia Mathur adds:

I have been lobbying politicians since I was seven-years-old for climate action. All my friends know the issues that are impacting our lives. We are 13 years old which means we can’t vote to protect our future until 2025. That is too long to wait to protect our future from climate breakdown.

Sophia Mathur was the first student in Canada to join the #FridaysForFuture movement in November 2018. That is well before Swedish activist Greta Thunberg galvanized the youth climate movement, which resulted in more than half a million people in the streets of Montreal in September 2019, and many more throughout Canada.

Both Zoe and Sophia are suing the Ontario government for weakening its climate targets, which will lead to widespread illness and death — as we are seeing with COVID-19 — and violating their Charter rights to life, liberty and security.

Colleagues, the youth want political action to protect their future. Either we give them the means to act — by allowing them to exercise democratic rights — or we will keep finding our own children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren and their friends in courts or watching them protest in the streets.

Many of my colleagues have proposed legislative action to help the youth, from Girl Scouts to protection from pornography and a proposed commissioner of youth. But as the testimony I have conveyed today clearly shows, the best thing we can do for youth is to let them speak for themselves, which they are obviously capable of doing, and to support Bill S-209.

Thank you, meegwetch.

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