The young as well as the older people of Canada seem to be in a deadlock. The question of if the federal government should or should not lower the voting age is a question debated surely around the dinner tables of families in Canada, as well as in the ranks of the government. Some people even suggest that the age needs to be raised. What would make people want the voting age to be lowered to an even lower age than the young adult age of 18? On the other hand how can the youth of Canada who have their own individual views be able to make a difference without being able to vote? Both sides provide for an intriguing look into the facts and resolutions for an appropriate way to either change the voting age or keep it the same. Throughout this paper I will look at and analyze the arguments of the youth who claim to be ‘disenfranchised’, as well as others who see the lowering of the voting age to be detrimental rather than an improvement to the Government of Canada’s political process.
In 1854, before Canada became a responsible government the only people allowed to vote were people who had a high value of land which they owned, and had a high income. Women and people with other ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs were also denied the right to vote. This did not mean that these people did not have their views and beliefs on who and what they wanted in their government but rather they were denied the right. These laws have changed since then drastically and Canada has become a democratic country (rule by the people). However, the frustration of not being able to vote and support their ideals and politicians does live on in the hearts and minds of thousands of young Canadians under the age of eighteen.
The youth of Canada between the ages of ten to eighteen years old accounts for approximately 12.5 percent of the overall population of Canada. Thousands of these young adults are politically informed, politically active and have the concerns and demands many of the people who actually vote have. However, the youth of Canada also have concerns of their own which they are unable to address substantially. People under the age of eighteen for the most part are concerned in matters much different than say an employed thirty five-year-old. The youth under eighteen still are in high school they are concerned about as a grade 10 student from Western Canada High School put class sizes, teacher disputes, and minimum wage, (Thompson) among other things. He later goes on to state the fact that by the time he has indeed graduated and become eighteen years old, he will no longer be interested in class sizes nor teacher disputes, therefore he will not address them in his decision on who he decided to vote for. This is a very valid argument and it is also true for the most part to say that the voices of these concerned children should be heard via the vote of their parents. The government of Canada sees the parents as a voice for their children, however parents inevitably will vote in a bias towards their needs such as tax cuts. Without the availability and opportunity to vote and voice their opinions in an electoral system the youth of Canada are left to impact the political process in other ways. Thousands of youth are involved in political parties, political rallies and interest groups all over the country and as the country starts recognizing these groups more it has become increasingly easier to voice one’s opinion and join. This is a valid argument to the point that most youth can already impact the result in politics by voicing their opinions and informing others rather than voting. Interest groups are an influential part of politics in Canada and if one under the age of eighteen does feel the need to voice their opinion and influence politics this can be argued to be easier and sometimes more efficient than actually voting. On the other hand, an interest group never can or will have the power to appoint a new mayor or Prime Minister or take part in deciding the result of a referendum the way a vote can and this in the end is what the youth of Canada really want.
Another aspect of the Canadian Government that seems to confuse the youth in Canada is the respect of maturity they can receive in many other aspects of life while politically they are seen as not mature enough to vote for themselves in an election or referendum. For example, a 15 year old boy living in Canada legally could get married next month, have as many children of his own, drive a car, he could leave school and live on the street away from home, even work full-time, but he would still not be allowed to vote. How can the government of Canada allow a child to face all the responsibilities and maturity needed to make these choices and not feel that the child is mature enough to vote? Catherine Johannson the national director of the NDP youth wing states In terms of the political process, it’s very frustrating for people who are under the age of 18 who work on political campaigns and put a lot of effort into it and are politically aware and politically active (Charlottetown-Guardian). The government needs to be much more consistent when dealing with these teenagers. It seems that the youth under eighteen are allowed to and trusted with dangerous machines such as cars, are considered mature enough to make the decision to drop out of school but, they are not considered mature enough to vote and make a political decision by themselves.
The youth under eighteen do have a point hindering their argument to lower the voting age and that is the youth over the age of eighteen. Realistically the youth of Canada over eighteen as a whole do not vote when the opportunity is given. The youth seem almost unaware and uncaring when it comes to political matters and elections. For example in the United States in 1994, only 20.1 percent of the population aged 18-24 voted for any office or issue on ballot compared to the 56.7 percent aged 45-64. These results are both staggering and obvious of the amount of young voters voting on election days. These results are also very similar to the results in Canada today. It is obvious that the youth that are allowed to vote don’t seem to be doing so, that brings us to the question, why?
The youth of Canada and the rest of the world need a reason to vote, they need to hear the political parties and politicians address the problems and concerns of youth as well as paying attention to them. The politicians need to give the youth a reason to vote they need to see results because in the past the youth have seen failed promises and poor results and the faith in politicians has greatly decreased. The media has been influential in making the decision if there is good reason to vote and in many ways as Christian Burke expresses we tend to trust them more than we should, and that bias is present in the coverage of everything (Burke). This is true, as the media is the fastest and easiest way to gain information and we tend to believe every word as they are on the television or radio. The youth of today live in an age of media with superstars of Hollywood, supermodels on the runway, and in many ways the youth of Canada will judge on image. Image is important to the youth and in many instances will vote for the party with a handsome well dressed leader because of his image rather than his ideals, beliefs and promises. This is very superficial and is another detrimental point made against lowering the age of voting.
Many speeches and events have happened and are currently booked to help the youth be interested in politics and eventually cast their vote. Politicians have lately been noticing the power of the youth vote and are starting to canter on informing and educating the youth of Canada on the political process and parties. From personal experience, politics was never taught in elementary of high school education. It was maybe mentioned every once and again in conversation but graduation came and left fellow classmates and myself uninformed, uneducated and uninterested in political process and parties. Individuals scattered throughout the system will inevitably become interested and pursue individually but as a whole the education system of Canada fails in making the youth interested in politics and election censuses show these products. The government has started to notice this trend and have started putting together events such as Rush the Vote campaign which is aimed at as organizer Paul Green states making sure that youth turn out to vote this election (Toronto Star). To do this the campaign draws upon popular musicians who appeal to many spectrums of youth interest to get the youth interested in the political process. If these events do succeed to appeal to the youth and interest them enough to participate and vote, then the future of lowering the voting age seems brighter. Without evidence that the youth will in fact vote and take care with their decisions the politicians will inevitably find it unnecessary to change anything.
In other foreign countries such as Iraq, the voting age is 16. There are both good and bad aspects of this difference noticeable when looking at the results and strategies of their elections and politicians. In Iraq their democratic system is much different then ours in Canada. There is a huge variety of candidates with thousands of politicians fighting for a small number of seats. Violence is common in the politics of Iraq which makes it visibly seem more important to their people than we (as the people of Canada) believe. The varieties of politicians have an array of different strategies. One of these is to appeal to the young by listening to their demands and making promises to be kept or forgotten. This can be seen in two ways, the politicians could be honestly listening to the young and wanting to help them or they could be using and exploiting the young for the power of their votes because they might seem more ignorant to the truths than the older generations. Any way one looks at the lower voting age in Iraq it is apparent that the youth vote does count and that the politicians are listening. Compared to Canada where the young are not even really considered into the demographics and results of an election it seems more democratic.
Taking the pros and the cons of the issue in question it is hard to come up with a valid solution but provincial and federal governments have already started. Along with campaigns such as Rush the Vote and others the government is interested in lowering the voting age. National Democratic Party MP Nelson Riis has seemingly spearheaded the movement and states it’s time the walls come down (Charlottetown Guardian). He has introduced a private members bill in parliament that if passed will lower the voting age in Canada and all of its provinces from eighteen to sixteen. Sixteen is the ideal age in which most of the youth today feel mature enough and educated enough to vote. Riis claims he has support from all house parties and among fellow MPs but it is still to be seen if the bill will make it through the process and lower the age. Something should be done, be it addressing the problems in another way or lowering the age because it is becoming increasingly apparent that the youth of Canada are not currently satisfied with the system and they are the future of Canada. Organizations such as Youthspeak, which was founded by a 15-year-old and is designed to lower the voting age and encourages youth rights in politics. A statement from their website reads; YouthSpeak’s primary focus issue is youth enfranchisement: that is youth political power! We work to eliminate the voting age, and support a constitutional amendment that would lower it. We also work for other issues, the elimination of curfew laws, youth free speech, and other youth power issues! . These voices must be heard and political powers should do something to listen to the issues and take action. If something were done to lower the voting age to sixteen it would not affect the results very substantially for many reasons. Not all the youth in Canada would vote as is obvious with the youth that are allowed to vote. The youth who would vote would most likely be educated in the different choices and have a reason to take time out of their lives to make the decision and vote. Youth would not vote if they were not interested, they would not just vote frivolously or vote because they did not have anything else to do. The reactions of the public and the appeal of the leaders would justify the results in the exact way it is today. As Bob Franklin states in his book on the rights of children Research evidence suggests that the party political implications of change would be minimal, with no party finding its support disproportionately enhanced (Franklin).
The worries of elder Canadians initially will be strong but as they realize the power of the rights and beliefs of their own children change in their opinions would soon take place. The people of Canada will soon accept the youth to be mature in their decisions in much the way that they are confident eighteen-year-olds will make the uninfluenced, educated choice. Politician’s opinions can easily shift when they also realize the power held in the votes made by the youth of Canada. Politicians would increase their attention on the issues in the life of a typical youth such as school disputes, teacher problems and other factors affecting them. This would in turn balance and decentralize the current focus of politicians and their efforts creating a more justified, equal system. The lower age could also encourage and interest youth much more in political processes and parties as now they would actually be able to impact the way they are governed and who is governing them. Politics would be much more noticeable in schools and the general knowledge of politics and the political process would drastically increase. The youth would also be more likely to develop earlier the skills and potentials needed in later life politically and even socially.
In conclusion when all is said and done I, personally would like to say the voting age lowered to sixteen for many of the reasons above. There will be many people opposing this movement but I think it is time for the youth of Canada to be heard and if they wish they should have the opportunity to vote and express their opinions and choices.