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

May 3, 2022

Honourable senators, I rise today in the chamber in support of Senator McPhedran’s Bill S-201 to lower the federal voting age to 16.

I spoke in favour of this legislative initiative during the last parliamentary session. I took that opportunity to give voice to youth actively engaged in their communities, advocating not only for environmental conservation and climate action but also for better education and less inequality. They are doing this advocacy work even when their governments don’t recognize their basic right to vote in elections that will impact their immediate future.

When I was reading the words of young Canadians, including Amélie Beaulé, Aya Arba, Solène Tessier, Zoe Keary-Matzner and Sophia Mathur, I wanted to demonstrate that Canadian youth are not only interested in federal politics, but also heavily invested in the decisions that are shaping our tomorrow.

These statements also had a common thread: Young people are capable of critical analysis when it comes to policy, and they deserve the right to be represented in our democratic institutions.

According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, youth must be empowered. Youth participation is key to democracy and inclusive, efficient political processes. Young women and men are central to social challenges such as poverty, discrimination and climate change, and their participation in politics promotes active citizenship and strengthens social responsibility. It offers innovation, creativity and new thinking. The IPU is actively encouraging youth participation in democracy. I invite you to follow the IPU’s debate competition until May 30, 2022. Watch and listen to young people debate and see how smart and articulate they are in expressing not only their worries but also the solutions they are proposing.

I’m sure you know that many of the recent world movements have been spearheaded by youth who are too worried about their future to wait for older generations such as ours to act or until they themselves are old enough to vote. Inspirational youth like Greta Thunberg and Autumn Peltier have moved millions of young people and adults alike. They have educated us on important issues, and they have helped put a spotlight on pressing matters in ways that so many others have not been able to.

If this proves anything, it is that age is not a factor in understanding and communicating complex issues. It is also definitive proof that adults over 18 years of age do not have a monopoly on good ideas and policy. In fact, in the words of Amélie Beaulé, “Wisdom is the human quality of aspiring to knowledge and understanding while knowing how to keep an open mind.”

Honourable senators, today’s young people embody this perfectly. They are engaged in their communities. They advocate for the greater collective good and equality. They are more connected than ever. They constantly demonstrate a thirst for knowledge, and they do so while keeping an open mind. All they ask in return is that we acknowledge their input, that we recognize their value and that we allow them to participate in the most basic democratic activity.

Lowering the voting age is not a new concept, and there are many good reasons that demonstrate how doing so is a sound and ethical choice. Many jurisdictions around the world have adopted a voting age under 18 for many reasons, including the following: Young people have adult responsibilities but are denied the same rights; young people are expected to follow the law but have no say in making it; young people are already participating in politics; young people make good voters; lowering the voting age will help increase voter turnout; lowering the voting age will improve the lives of youth; knowledge and experience are not criteria for voting eligibility; there are no wrong votes; arguments against lowering the voting age can be used to disenfranchise adults, too; and, finally, legislation to lower the voting age has more support than you think.

In the last parliamentary session, we voted to send this bill to committee so the impacts of lowering the voting age could be studied. We should do that again as soon as possible.

Thank you, meegwetch.

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