Canada allows 16-year-olds to fight in wars before they can vote
// Sarah Vitet

The day you turn 18, your whole life changes. Suddenly, society cares about what you have to say. Your irresponsible childish ideas metamorphose into practical political understanding, and when the time comes, you know exactly who to vote for. Practically overnight, aging from 17 to 18 monumentally changes the way you view your role in society.

Or does it? Is turning 18 actually the most effective age for you to be starting your role as a full citizen? According to Elections Canada, only 35.6 per cent of 18-year-olds actually voted in the 2008 federal election. This is obviously a problem, and various methods have been taken to solve it. Usually the campaigns to encourage young people to vote involve ultra-current t-shirt campaigns, with slogans that youth can relate to, such as “Rock the Vote” or “Laugh, Dance, Vote!” While these efforts aren’t necessarily bad, they are definitely taking the wrong approach.

The voting age should be lowered to at least 16. By trusting teens to think critically at an earlier age, they would be encouraged to take a more active role in citizenship. In conjunction, schools should teach current politics to young students. This would provide young people with the base knowledge they need to make informed decisions at the polls. It would also send young people a positive message: we don’t think you are idiots, incapable of making decisions, we think you are smart enough and capable enough to participate as an equal member of society.

Once you’re out of high school, as most people are at 18, you are expected to educate yourself about the Canadian political climate without any guidance. You are also required to actively figure out how voting works. This may not seem too difficult on the surface, but voting records indicate that something is impeding young people from participating. If the voting age was lowered, everyone would be registered to vote in high school, and polling stations could even be set up in the school (most of them are in schools, anyway). There would be no excuse not to vote, and it would foster a lifelong connection to the political system that young people are clearly lacking.

The Minister of Health, Mike de Jong, has been a vocal advocate for lowering the voting age to 16, as has Premier Christy Clark. “Young people can drive at 16,” Jong has said. “They can enter the military and be raised to adult court. We give them these responsibilities, so why not take the next logical step and let them be full participants?"

Indeed. We want young people to make independent decisions, yet we don’t honour them with the right to have input into the future of the country they live in? It denotes a lack of respect for young people, so we really shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t gain much respect for the political system just because they turn 18.

The Council of Europe has recently called on member states to investigate lowering the voting age to 16.They found that "research indicates that the longer young people have to wait to participate in political life, the less engaged they are in their adult life.” A 2009 Council motion stated that “there is a real risk that young people will be marginalized in the political process, both on a specific level as they will be numerically outnumbered, but also because the political agenda risks becoming dominated by issues that are primarily interesting for older people.”

Many countries have already lowered the voting age to 16, including Austria, Brazil, and Cuba, as well as many specific regional governments. While changing the age in B.C., as Clark and de Jong have expressed an interest in doing, would be a great start, it also needs to be changed federally. In 2005, a Private Members Bill was moved to lower the voting age to 16, but it was defeated on the second reading.

If we want to have a country that is a functional democracy, we need every citizen to become engaged in the political system. Lowering the voting age to 16 not only encourages young people to start voting at a younger age, it allows them to become part of the discussion. Sixteen-year-olds are allowed to join the military and die for our country, but aren’t allowed to decide who runs it? This is backwards, and it needs to change.

//Sarah Vitet, editor-in-chief

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com