House of Commons Hansard #111 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was quebec.

Topics

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise today as the youngest member of Parliament in Canada to discuss the matters before us related to the proposal to lower the voting age in Canada. There are three key messages that I want to attribute to this debate on how I think we can reinvigorate the interests of young people in our democratic process.

To begin, I would like to make some overall observations about the bill before the House that calls on the reduction of the voting age to 16.

First, I can understand the frustration that some young people might feel with the possibility that they might not be allowed to vote. A federal election could arrive before they reach the age of majority. I recall that in 1997 I turned 18 the day after the election. I missed the opportunity to vote by one day, and remember how deeply frustrated I was at that time.

With age and a few grey hairs along the way, I have come to learn a few things and to believe that along with rights come responsibilities. Certain responsibilities are afforded to our young people at the age of majority. The responsibility to work and pay taxes usually arrives around the age of 18. Until that age, most citizens of our country have the vast majority of things provided for them. The values such as thrift, responsibility and hard work are most exemplified in the years that follow, having reached the age of majority.

Why is this important to the overall discussion before us? We want our voters who choose the government to have all those values I just described. It is very difficult for that to happen until young people have reached the age of majority. As I try to balance rights with responsibilities, I have come to believe that the age of majority is a good age at which to give voting rights to our young people.

That being said, I encourage young people from all across the country to do what many in this Conservative caucus did in their teenage years, which is to join a political party, become politically active and engage not only at a partisan level but in issues that matter most to them. As a young person and as the youngest member of Parliament in Canada, I proudly say that I do not support reducing the voting age but rather increasing political involvement on other levels among young people.

I also will make note that I am part of the youngest caucus in the history of Canada on the Conservative side. We have 20 members of Parliament under the age of 40. We have five members of Parliament 30 years of age and under. When I look across the way, what do I see? I see another generation. I see yesteryear. I see yesterday's government. We on this side of the House see tomorrow. We see the future and I proud to be part of that future.

Let me say a few other things that might interest young people and get them involved in the democratic process.

One issue that concerns young people and young families in general is the fact that there is a minister on that side of the House who would take away their right to choose how to raise their own children, who would impose upon them the costs of an institutional day care bureaucracy that they must pay for even if they do not want to use it. This $10 billion day care bureaucracy will affect young people more than anyone and will discourage them from partaking in the democratic process because of the cynical nature that underlies it.

Young people want choice. They want a party that will put child care dollars directly into their pockets, allowing them to decide how to raise their own children. That is a hopeful policy. That is a policy of the future. That is something young people in our party could really get behind, and we should applaud that.

My hon. colleagues around me should never feel badly about interrupting my remarks with their applause. However, I will move on to something else that deals with involving young people in the democratic process.

When young people turn on the television and they see that their government has spent their tax dollars to pay ten months of rent for an empty building, two months without even a signed lease, to a company that just happens to be run by a Liberal senator, that kind of cynical politics, that kind of Liberal corruption, turns our young people off the political process.

I suggest that a second solution for involving young people would be to put an end to Liberal corruption, to Liberal theft and to Liberal bribery. If the government wants to get its priorities straight in a way that would truly inspire our young, instead of spending millions on rent for an empty building, it would give the Queensway Carleton Hospital control of its own land. Imagine how people in west end Ottawa, particularly young people, would view such an act of integrity. They would be surprised but also honoured to see their government do the right thing and allow a community hospital, which serves my constituency, to have control over its own land. It would no longer pay rent to a federal bureaucracy. All the revenues it could generate on that land would go back to patient care and innovation. That would truly inspire young people in my riding and get them interested in the democratic process.

I have mentioned three very practical examples: giving child care dollars to parents; ending rent payments for empty buildings; and giving a community hospital control of its own land. Those are three altruistic acts the government could undertake that would truly inspire the nation's young and make all of us proud to serve and to be in this place.

The final suggestion I will make is that all political parties, if they want to attract young people into the democratic process, should do what the Conservative Party has done, which is to put its money where its mouth is and act out that goal rather than just talk about it.

When young people turn on a television and they see only people of a generation distant from their own, they begin to believe that politics is not for them, that politics is for somebody else, that it is for another generation, that they will start to get interested in it in about 30 or 40 years. When they start to see people their own age who speak their language and talk in terms that they can appreciate, they would get interested in the democratic process.

That is why I will reiterate my congratulations to our leader and his effort in a very democratic way to involve young people in the leadership of the party as opposed to sidelining them in a youth wing which makes them second class citizens.

I look around this place today and I see a number of young people in this chamber. They are here because they were given a chance to be equals. They were not set aside to be second class citizens in a third tier sandbox as other political parties have made them. We have 20 members of Parliament under the age of 40 in this caucus. We have five members of Parliament who are 30 and under. The Conservatives have the youngest caucus in the history of the country, and the best I am proud to say.

I will conclude on a hopeful note that we in this caucus will continue to build policies that inspire the next generation, that we will work toward a future free of Liberal corruption and one that is dedicated to the interests and the values of the next generation of entrepreneurial young Canadians, of which I consider myself a proud member.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

June 8th, 2005 / 6:25 p.m.

Bloc

Stéphane Bergeron Verchères—Les Patriotes, QC

Mr. Speaker, all I have heard is empty rhetoric with no basis in reality. Boasting about having a caucus comprised for the most part of young people is not enough to get young people more interested in politics. I was elected to this place at age 28. I belonged to the statistical category of youth. But I never regarded that mere fact as an opportunity to get young people more interested in politics.

In Le Cid , Corneille has his hero say:

Young I may be, but to those well bredWorth is not measured by age.

I think that this goes to the heart and core of our debate today on Bill C-261, to lower the voting age to 16.

I have heard arguments put forward to oppose this bill similar to those heard when considering lowering the voting age from 21 to 18, the same kind of slightly paternalistic argument suggesting that young people are cynical, not interested and not mature enough to make an informed decision. I do not believe a word of that. I will explain why I believe it would be appropriate to allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote.

Before going any further, I would like to thank our colleague from Ajax—Pickering and commend his initiative. It was his idea to bring the issue of lowering the voting age to 16 back on the floor of the House. The issue was debated in this place previously. Two similar bills or motions have been put before this House by members of the New Democratic Party, including our colleague from Churchill.

The member for Ajax—Pickering therefore took up the fight again with this initiative, but had the brilliant idea of making it non partisan. He wanted a multi-party initiative. So he involved a number of colleagues from the various parties: the member for Newmarket—Aurora, a Conservative member until the events we know about occurred; the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, of the New Democratic Party, and myself, of the Bloc Québécois. Many members from all the political parties joined us. I want to recognize and congratulate our colleague for Ajax—Pickering for his highly honourable initiative.

As parliamentarians, we must be deeply concerned about voter turnout, which is tending to become, as in most western countries, increasingly anemic, election after election, to the extent that the latest voter turnout, in the June 28, 2004, election was among the lowest in Canadian history.

In view of this disturbing situation, we must take vigorous measures to correct the situation. They include lowering the voting age to 16. I will explain a little further on why such a measure could have a positive effect on the outcome of things.

Needless to say, the trend will not be reversed by the measure to lower the voting age to 16. The government and public authorities have to establish a series of measures to create an interest in politics. They will have to cultivate an interest among the very young in public life and bring the provincial and territorial governments in on it. Civic education, political and history courses will have to be introduced very early in the schools.

That said, why should we lower the voting age to 16?

There is a whole series of justifications of a philosophical nature that have to be brought into it. For example, in Quebec and most provinces, the legal working age is 16 years. Consequently, that is the age at which young people can be required to pay taxes. In keeping with the principle of no taxation without representation, it seems normal to us they would also be able to help choose the people in government who will be involved in administering the tax dollars their work provides.

People can drive when they turn 16, and that activity has far greater potential consequences than just entering a polling booth and performing one's duty as a citizen by voting.

As soon as young people turn 17, they can enlist in the armed forces, and potentially serve in theatres of operations at risk of their lives. It seems to us therefore—and this is an argument I had thought our Conservative friends would support—that, as we have always thought, a young person prepared to risk his life for his country should be given the right to choose those who will control the destiny of his country.

There are a number of purely practical considerations as well. Studies have shown that the earlier a young person gets involved in elections, the more likely he is to continue to exercise his franchise throughout his life. This is the reasoning behind reducing the voting age to 16. If a young person develops the habit of casting his ballot early in life, it can be presumed that he will continue throughout his life to be a citizen actively involved in public life, even if it is only by casting his vote.

It has been found that young people not allowed to do so are likely to drop out. This means a very long period of opting out of the electoral process. This is the explanation for the poor showing among 18 to 25 year-olds. We have not managed to attract their attention and give them a taste for getting involved. We have not got them interested.

As my colleague from Ajax—Pickering was wont to say—and rightly so, in my opinion—the major corporations have clearly understood that to create consumer habits you need to start young. Nike, McDonald's and the like focus on youth. Why not use the same approach to create positive habits of civic duty?

Political parties understood that young people were mature enough, responsible enough and interested enough to take part in public debate. Most political parties in Canada accept members as young as 14 or 16.

We have this contradiction where a young person can participate in the selection of the person who could eventually become prime minister of the country but where that same young person is not allowed to choose his or her member of Parliament at the riding level. We must end that contradictory situation.

We often hear that young people are not interested in politics. That is true. They are more or less interested and they do not know if or for whom they would vote if they had the right to vote. In fact, they do not feel they have to choose because we do not even care to ask for their opinion. When asked if they would vote for the Conservatives, the Liberals, the New Democrats or the Bloc, they do not know. However, when asked if they have an opinion on the environment, Kyoto, globalization or the war in Iraq, they do have very clear opinions. It so happens that political parties are the vehicles of those opinions. When we make them realize that, the young recognize that in the end, they have a great deal of interest in politics.

I will conclude by saying that in 1991, in its report Reforming Electoral Democracy , the Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing concluded that Parliament should review the question regularly. The time has now come. On March 27, 2004, the chief electoral officer himself declared that lowering the voting age to 16 had some benefits. We could not say that our chief electoral officer does not have an informed opinion on the issue.

I would have liked, and I would still like, to see the House adopt the bill.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to debate once again the issue of lowering the voting age to 16.

I want to start off by acknowledging the comments by my colleague from the Bloc who talked about the paradox of how someone, and I believe the age is 14 years in most political parties in the country, can vote for their party leader. This includes, unless things have changed in the last couple years, the Conservative Party. There are people who can vote for their party leader who--although I think it is very doubtful we are going to see this with the Conservative Party--could become the prime minister and those people do not have the right to vote for that person within a normal federal election. It is a paradox. It is absolutely hypocritical.

I was taken aback by the comments made by the Conservative member that somehow being younger is better, as if everyone else does not count. That is not how I look at it. I look at it as representation within the House of as many as possible, recognizing the experience and wisdom that comes from every age group. His comments came across as very derogatory, that somehow anyone who is of another generation does not count.

That is not what I want to see in the House. That is not why I believe that young people should be given the opportunity to vote. They should be given the opportunity because I have seen over the course of time the intelligence that they offer, the differing opinions and different perspectives that they offer. As I met with them in high schools and throughout my riding, I grew more and more committed to the fact that they should be given the opportunity to vote, not because somehow I thought all those older people did not have any respectable qualities, or any good qualities or any great options for the country. That was not it.

I certainly got a very uncomfortable feeling from the Conservative member.

It is important that we give the representation to as wide an age group as possible within the House.

As I indicated, I have seen a great response from young people in the riding. We can always debate about whether the age should be 14, 16 or 17. Generally we tie it to different things that happen in the lives of individuals.

I mentioned how at age 14 most individuals can vote within their parties for their leader. I have listened over the years to comments that 10 year olds should be moved up to adult court. Again, it came from the Reform-Alliance and I think probably some of it has hung over to the Conservatives. In all reality there were actually comments that 10 year olds should be moved up to adult court. Where is the hypocrisy of moving a 10 year old up to adult court but a 16 year old should not be able to vote in an election?

Even if we went beyond that, we know that 16 year olds can be moved up to adult court. If we expect that they are responsible for their actions at 16, enough that they can be moved up to adult court for a particular crime, certainly we should acknowledge they should have the right to vote in an election.

A number of 15, 16 and 17 year old men went to war in the second world war. They laid their lives on the line for this country and did not have the right to vote. How many 14, 15 and 16 year olds are working adding additional income for their families? It is a rough time for a lot of people on minimum wage, so there are family members who are working.

It is not because of our age that we pay income tax. It is when we reach a certain level of income that we pay income tax. One can be 14 and be paying income tax, but at 14 one cannot vote municipally, provincially or federally. It is time that changed.

Young people have access to more information now than ever before. They are more knowledgeable about things happening throughout the world. We need to recognize that and give them the opportunity to vote.

I want to emphasize the comments by my colleague from the Bloc about how businesses and corporations know that they have to target young people if they want to get them hooked into doing something.

We have accepted that we can hook them in for buying certain products, eating certain foods, and smoking and drinking, but somehow it is wrong for us to suggest that they get involved in the political process and vote at that age. It is an excellent time. They are in their senior years in school.

I do not know about the other provinces, but in the province of Manitoba grade nine has a basic component of the curriculum in which the students study governments. I often get called into the schools to speak to the students. I know it is going to shock members, but I really try not to be partisan and I really make an effort to build an understanding. I am amazed at the questions that come from the students.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

An hon. member

Not partisan?

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:40 p.m.

NDP

Bev Desjarlais Churchill, MB

No partisanship, I am telling members. I was a school trustee and I know that if someone goes into a school and starts getting partisan, that person will not be back there. It just will not happen.

I stand firm on the commitment that I do not get partisan, but I can say that I have been in the schools in my riding and have entered into discussions on the trade agreements and how they affect the farm situation. We have had discussions about the BSE crisis. That was with grade 9 and grade 10 students. There are a lot of adults in this country who do not have the same type of knowledge that I was experiencing in those classrooms and we still give them the right to vote. And well we should. We expect that individuals take time to learn about what they are going to be voting on and to understand the different parties.

I think we have reached that fork in the road where we make a decision as a country to go a bit further, to take that leap and to put the trust in the young people in our country. I think that time is now.

I was involved in this in the last Parliament. I had a private member's bill on this. I remember having discussions with one of the former Conservative's daughters, Catherine Clark. I think it was with one of my colleagues from the Conservatives, the member for Port Moody--Westwood--Port Coquitlam, I believe, that I had discussions about the age group. We acknowledged some of the dynamics of what was allowed within parties at age 14, but somehow people still say we should not allow 16 year olds to vote. I think we have a lot of hypocrisy involved in this and we need to go beyond that.

I also want to make a point of mentioning that within the first nations communities we have a situation: not a lot of people go out and vote. Many Canadians do not realize that aboriginal people in Canada, certainly first nations, did not have the right to vote until much later than everyone else. Sometimes there is criticism that if they do not want to get out and vote it is their own fault, but again, let us recognize that sometimes people have to get into the habit of voting. They need to see that voting works and they need to be able to see change.

First nations people have not been given the same length of time to get into that process, so I think it is crucially important in the first nations communities that 16 year olds have the opportunity to get involved in the election process. They will be in their schools and they can take the time to learn about the different political parties and the different policies of those parties. That can be done in a non-partisan way. We can get the information out there and then they can make a decision and become involved in the electoral process.

A number of first nations communities elect junior chiefs and councils. That is the area of government they see firsthand, the chiefs and councils in their communities. A number of those communities have junior chiefs and councils who try to be actively involved in how their communities work.

If those young people are taking the time to see themselves as junior chiefs and councils, I also think they would take the time to see themselves involved in the whole political process within the country. From the perspective of encouraging first nations and aboriginal youth to become part of the electoral process, I also think it is crucially important.

I have just a few minutes left. I want to thank my colleague from Ajax—Pickering and my colleague from Skeena—Bulkley Valley for pursuing this issue in this Parliament. I certainly support this motion. I would encourage everyone else to take that extra strong leap and support young people having the opportunity to vote, because they have shown that they are active participants in Canada. We should give them the opportunity to be actively involved politically.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Navdeep Bains Mississauga—Brampton South, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act. The purpose of the bill is to reduce the voting age in Canada for federal elections from 18 to 16.

I want to be crystal clear from the beginning. I support the premise of the bill and I think it is a sound bill.

I support the bill on the premise that I believe reducing the voting age to 16 would increase youth involvement in the political process and, as a result, would increase voter turnout in Canada.

The youth in Canada represent the future of our country. They are the foundation upon which our country will be built. Therefore, I believe it is vital that they are involved in the political process from the time they are receiving education, especially at the high school level.

Over the past few months I have visited various high schools in my riding of Mississauga—Brampton South. I have had many discussions with students on a whole host of issues, including some issues brought forth by the members in terms of BMD, Kyoto, foreign affairs, and even human rights. There is a sound interest when it comes to that area as well.

I have come to the realization and understanding that they have a sound grasp of current affairs and, more important, the political process, the political structure and the political parties.

At present the voting age stands at 18, but with elections occurring every four years on average, it is likely that many of the young adults I have talked about will not have an opportunity to vote until the age of 21 or 22.

An example was brought forth today in the House. If somebody who wants to vote has just turned 18 but has just missed the election and there is a majority government--I know that things are a bit different now--he or she will not get an opportunity to vote until the age of 22 or 23. I do not think that is a fair opportunity. It is of major concern to me.

They should have the right to vote. It can be argued that voting is like a habit. Like many other things, it is a habit that needs to be developed at a very young age. If we were to encourage youth to get involved at a very young age, especially at the age of 16 or 17, it would really help to address the issue of major concern, which is the democratic deficit and the fact that we want to get more people engaged. What I am supporting today is the notion that starting to vote at a younger age will help the youth in our country develop better voting habits at a very young age.

At the age of 16, many Canadians are still studying in secondary school or high school. At school they are provided a platform on which to discuss the issues and debate the policies. I believe that above and beyond that they will receive a fair amount of encouragement from their teachers, from the local councils and from parents to go out and vote. I think it is very important to acknowledge that as well.

Therefore, they will become more aware of their government and current events. They will feel more involved with the process and will be more interested, because they will have a meaningful and sound voice and they will feel like they have contributed. I believe that voting will empower our youth at a younger age and really develop the sound voting habits that I have addressed before.

In my riding, approximately 4% of individuals are 16 or 17 years old. That age group constitutes about 4% of my riding, as I have stated, and approximately 3.4% of the eligible voters across this country of ours.

Considering that in the last federal election the voter turnout was at 60.9%, I believe something needs to be done in order to change that low voter turnout. If we target the youth in our country, that 4% who are 16 and 17 years old, with the expectation that we deal with them and encourage them to get involved in the political process, I truly do believe that we can increase the turnout of voters in both the short term and the long term.

At present, we allow a 16 year old to drop out of high school, as has been stated. A 17 year old Canadian is allowed to join the Canadian Forces and die to protect our country. I think it is fairly intriguing that they are not able to vote. A very interesting point was brought forth by my Bloc colleague, who indicated that they can technically pay taxes and they should have representation at that age as well. That too is a very important theme to acknowledge. It is very important to acknowledge that they need to have the opportunity to vote.

It would not be the first time in our history that we have reformed our country's voting laws. I think the shift to reduce the voting age from 18 to 16 really reflects the shifting dynamic in our society. Times have changed. I do not need to state that, but it is important to acknowledge it. Access to information is readily available. The youth know and understand the issues. They have the ability to gain insight to the issues more easily. By using the Internet and so forth, they can access information more readily now than youth could in the past.

There are many instances of major electoral reform. For example, in 1918 women acquired or were given the right to vote. In 1950 the Inuit were included. In 1960 the first nations people living on reserves received the right to vote.

Then, in 1970, the voting age was changed from 21 to 18. The issues being brought forth by my colleagues on the other side of the House were as prevalent then as they are today. I still believe that even though there was all that resistance it was a move that benefited many Canadians and engaged Canadians from a very young age to get involved in the political process.

This change would not be a radical change, as some have argued. There are partisan concerns, but I do not believe partisanship should drive politics or policy when we sit in the House. I know there are concerns that the younger voters will tend not to vote for certain parties. That should not be the issue. The issue has to do with encouraging youth to get involved.

Since I have become a member of Parliament I have continuously worked with the youth in our country, with the intent of engaging them in the political process. I have attended many events, the majority of them organized by the youth themselves. I have hosted many meetings in my riding and I have listened to their concerns.

The overwhelming response that I receive from youth, especially the youth of Mississauga--Brampton South, is that they feel disconnected and disengaged from the political process. They feel that politicians do not really care about them or listen to their needs and concerns. I think that today would be a prime example of showing that we do care and that we do value their opinions.

Part of the problem is that 16 and 17 year old voters understand the issues and they feel that if they were able to vote then those issues or concerns would be a priority for the government. Because they are unable to vote, they are very disenchanted. I believe this must change.

I am supporting this bill because I believe it will increase voter turnout. It will engage more youth to get involved in the political process. In addition, it will allow us as members of Parliament to really address some of their concerns.

I think we have a very clear choice to make today. As I have indicated, we witnessed in 2004 a very low voter turnout, where 60.9% of the voters actually came out. We need to do something. It is a major concern. Low voter turnout is unacceptable. It is not the kind of country we want to build. It is not the type of democracy we want to build.

The democratic deficit we talked about is a major issue, so I believe that changing the voting age from 18 to 16 is the right thing to do. It is a sound step toward addressing the democratic deficit. I hope I can count on the support of many of my colleagues for this as well.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.

Conservative

Jeremy Harrison Churchill River, SK

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-261 brought forward by the member for Ajax—Pickering which would lower the voting age from 18 to 16.

In the debate today we heard a great deal of talk from the other parties, not the Conservative Party, about getting young people involved in politics. In the Conservative Party we have young people involved in politics. We have young people in Parliament and in every position in riding associations, from boards of directors through to riding presidents and national executive members.

On the last national executive we had three members under the age of 20. I can say that in the other parties that was not the case. The other parties see fit to have affirmative action type programs for youth but we believe that all members of our party are equal and they have succeeded by being equal.

The Conservative Party has the youngest caucus in the history of Canada. We have 20 members under the age of 40; fully 20% of our caucus under the age of 40. We have the member for Nepean—Carleton, the youngest member of Parliament in Canada at 25 years of age, who gave an address earlier in this debate. He has done an outstanding job as a member of Parliament. His career prior to that was as a small business owner. He is an educated young fellow and a guy who has done a heck of a job here.

We also have the member for Regina—Qu'Appelle who was elected at 25 years of age and who also had a career in the private sector. He is educated, ran for a nomination as an equal member with everybody, won his nomination and was elected to Parliament.

I was involved in academia for quite some time. I completed university degrees in political science, Canadian history and in law. I worked as a political staffer. I worked in the forestry industry in northern Saskatchewan and served in the Canadian Forces. I ran for my nomination on the same basis as everybody else, won my nomination and was elected to Parliament.

We keep hearing from the other side about how they would like to get young people involved in politics but I look across the way at the Liberal Party and the NDP and I see no young MPs. They do have a few members over there who are young at heart, I will give them that, but in terms of age they cannot match the Conservative Party for the youth of our caucus.

We have other members. The member from Coquitlam was elected at the age of 24. He is now in his second term and is a senior critic. He has done an excellent job for his constituents. He was the youngest member in the last Parliament. We have a number of members, now in their third terms, who were elected in their mid-20s in the 1997 election. We have the member for Edmonton—Strathcona who was elected at the age of 25, was re-elected twice and who has done an excellent job as an MP.

We have the member for Calgary West who also was elected at 25. He is now in his third term and has done an excellent job as an MP. The member for Calgary Southeast was elected at 27 and is now in his third term. He is a caucus officer in the Conservative Party and a senior critic and, like many of these other young people, has done an excellent job.

Where are the young people opposite? They talk about having young people involved yet where are they? They are not in Parliament.

The other parties see fit to segregate their young people. They put them into a sandbox, into a youth wing, and tell them to go play in the youth wing, play in the sandbox with other young people and then tell them to come back when they are 35. That is not the attitude we have in the Conservative Party.

In the Conservative Party we tell young people to run for a nomination or for the national executive at age 20 or 25. If young people were to tell a senior member of the other parties that they were thinking of running, the answer would be that they should first run for a VP membership of a youth wing and then come back to see them when they are 35.

If anyone wonders why we have young MPs, that is the reason. We have a culture in this party of giving young people real responsibility and real opportunity. It does not exist in that party.

I am not supporting Bill C-261. We have talked about the reasons. I know in the first hour of debate on this my colleague from Lanark—Carleton debated in great detail the reasons that he did not believe the bill was worthy of support and I have to say I agree.

If we look at all the great democracies in the world, Great Britain, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, India, none of these countries have voting ages below 18.

As I said earlier, one only has to look at our caucus. We walk the walk. We have young people involved.

It was interesting to hear the remarks of the member for Newmarket—Aurora, who had previously made a great deal out of lowering the voting age and was one of the seconders of the bill, but who now has obviously crossed the floor and is sitting on the other side. I wonder if her tone will change. I wonder if she will still believe that the voting age should be lowered and will be voting for the bill. We will see. I have a hunch that she will not be. Maybe she just will not show up. I will tell members that I will be shocked if she shows up and supports the position that she took with great fanfare in favour of lowering the voting age.

As I said, I am not supporting the bill. I think the proof is in the pudding. We have the youngest caucus in the history of Canada. Our party is very much a friendly party to young people and it is shown by the people we have in this caucus.

Canada Elections Act
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Brant, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to deal with the substance of Bill C-261. Ten minutes does not permit me to name all of the young members of Parliament who are on this side of the House.

I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate on Bill C-261. My understanding is that the hon. member's major motivation in bringing the bill forward stems from his desire to do something about declining rates for voter participation, particularly among young persons. That is obviously a laudable objective and one that I am confident we all share.

Just allow me to predicate my remarks by saying that the member for Ajax--Pickering is very well regarded on this side of the House, I dare say on all sides of the House, and represents his constituents in a very exemplary fashion.

He is aware, as we are, that declining voter participation is a trend that has afflicted many western industrialized countries in recent years, and Canada is no exception. For a long period after the second world war, voter turnout averaged 75% and, as recently as the 1993 election, the participation rate among the electorate was 70%. From that point on, turnout has been in steady decline, falling to 67% in 1997 and 64% in 2000.

The Chief Electoral Officer recently released the participation rates for the election last year and it is not a positive picture. Turnout has declined to a level of 60.9%. In 10 short years we have gone from 70% turnout to less than 61% turnout. I dare say that we cannot afford to go much further without raising fundamental questions about the nature of our democracy.

If one looks at the province by province breakdown, the figures become even more alarming. Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, had a turnout rate of only 49.3%. A number of other provinces are only marginally better. I think we all can certainly agree that there is a problem that needs to be addressed and quickly addressed. The question is whether Bill C-261 would do that.

The legislation before us today raises a number of questions: Is lowering the voting age a good idea? Are we confident that citizens younger than 18, on the whole, possess the necessary knowledge and maturity that is required to make an informed decision? Is lowering the voting age to 16 part of the solution? Are there better ways of achieving our objectives? I do not pretend to have the answers to all of these questions but I have had the opportunity to give the issue some thought.

In examining any policy issue it is always illuminating to look at what other jurisdictions are doing. Of the 191 member states of the United Nations, the vast majority, including all the European Union member states, Australia, Canada and the United States, have a minimum voting age of 18 years. There are only a few which have minimum voting ages less than 18: Iran, Brazil, Cuba and Nicaragua.

It is interesting to note that several countries have minimum voting ages greater than 18. For example, Japan has a minimum voting age of 20 and Singapore has a voting age of 21 years. As we all know, the provinces all have a minimum voting age of 18 years.

These inter-jurisdictional comparisons give a strong indication that 18 is generally regarded as an appropriate minimum standard. Let me be clear. The point is not that Canada should use 18 years because everyone else does, but that our own assessment echoes a widespread consensus.

The next question is: Why does there seem to be such a widespread view that individuals should be at least 18 years of age to cast a vote?

I found it worthwhile to refer back to the work of the royal commission on electoral reform and party financing, the Lortie commission, which examined this issue in detail in its 1991 report. This report is the most comprehensive look at our electoral system that has ever been undertaken. It is the bible of electoral reform as it were.

Lortie examined the evolution of the franchise in the context of four criteria which have been used implicitly to determine who should be allowed to vote. These criteria include: holding a stake in the governance of society; the ability to cast a rational and informed vote; conformity to the norms of responsible citizenship; and the need to maintain the impartiality of election officers.

Throughout our history, these criteria have been used to include certain groups in the franchise. By the same token, these criteria have occasionally been used to wrongly exclude certain groups, the exclusion of women from voting in our early history being a primary example and the more recent exclusion of aboriginal peoples being another.

One of the key assumptions underlying the criteria, of course, is that voting requires the exercise of independent judgment and the capacity to engage in political discourse with other citizens. While wrongly applied in some cases, the Lortie commission concluded that these four criteria remain the cornerstone of electoral law in regard to determining who should vote. They provide a benchmark against which to assess whether an exclusion from the franchise is justified in a free and democratic society as required by the charter of rights.

It was against these criteria that the Lortie commission examined the issue of minimum voting age. The commission noted that any decision on voting age involves the judgment of society about when individuals reach maturity as citizens. The report noted that under most statutes a person is not considered an adult until having reached the age of 18. It also noted that a minor requires parental consent for many important decisions, such as applying for citizenship, getting married or seeking certain medical interventions.

Following its comprehensive review, Lortie concluded that the evidence for reducing the voting age to 16 years was not sufficiently compelling. The final recommendation was that the voting age remain at 18 years. Of course, it is trite to say that societies and understandings change, so it is useful to revisit these questions occasionally. Electoral reform is fluid, a work in progress and nothing is cast in stone. For my part, however, I remain convinced that the analysis and conclusions of the Lortie commission remain sound.

At the beginning of my remarks I raised a number of questions that need to be asked in the context of this proposed legislation. While I certainly do not purport to have even scratched the surface, my own examination of this issue has led me to conclude that the time is not yet right to lower the voting age to 16. There seems to be a consensus which extends across nations, cultures and various political systems that 18 years is the appropriate age of majority when it comes to having the capacity to make a decision about whether to cast a vote and which candidate or party one should support.

Of course, not being able to vote until 18 years of age does not mean that young people are excluded from the democratic process. On the contrary, the years between 16 and 18 provide a critical time in the development of overall political knowledge and civic values, both of which foster and form decision making in the polling booth.

We all know firsthand the invaluable contributions which young people make to our own political parties and local organizations. It is a two way street. Knowledge about how the system works and about the key participants is, in my mind, critical to making an informed decision. Rather than lowering the voting age, we should be doing whatever we can to ensure that young people are receiving the education they require and that they are encouraged to contribute to the civic life of their communities.

I congratulate my colleague, the member for Ajax—Pickering, for bringing this important issue before us today. I will be voting against this bill, but I believe it is essential that we get to the bottom of why young people seem to be increasingly disengaged from the political system.

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7:10 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Mr. Speaker, it came as news to me that I am only young at heart. It certainly will come as news to my constituents. I was elected in the last election at the age of 29. Frankly, I think that really misses the point. I will speak to that a little bit later.

I wish to thank many of my hon. colleagues who worked along with me on this bill, particularly those that travelled to different schools across the country and talked to students. I want to thank the member for Verchères—Les-Patriotes, a member from the Bloc, who spoke with great passion earlier. He certainly spoke with great passion in the schools. I am deeply appreciative of all the work he did. I also appreciated the work done by the NDP member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley who did a tremendous amount of work.

I think we were able as a group, along with the member for Newmarket—Aurora, who is now the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, to be a team that went out and showed how we can work in a non-partisan way about engaging youth. That is an excellent starting point, to say that we got together from all different parties and were able to get into classrooms, put our partisanship aside and ask, how can we get youth interested in politics? We were very successful in that regard. I would also like to thank the NDP member for Churchill who had previously introduced this bill.

I would also like to thank from the Conservatives the member for Selkirk—Interlake and the member for Edmonton—Strathcona who also took part in those discussions in schools, and the member for Mississauga—Brampton South for the discussions he held in schools in the Brampton area.

There were a tremendous number of members who participated in this process. As I was going around and participating with other members there were some additional thoughts beyond what I first said that really struck me.

The first thing that really struck me was the incredible opportunity that we have in that classroom. Here we have a group of individuals that will go on to become plumbers, tradespeople, doctors or perhaps politicians and who will go into all different fields. Yet, this is the one time in their life that we have them in one room.

We have this unique opportunity to engage them and talk with them about the political process, not in some vague academic way but to give them support in a very real and tangible sense about how they can participate in the electoral process.

We look at why 18, 19, 20 and 21 year olds and older are not voting. It is often because they have considerations such as: do they vote at home or do they vote at their school? How do they find out about their candidates?

They ask questions about issues because they do not have a formal venue. For example, politics does not come up for those studying marine biology. It is not part of the formal education. We have lost the opportunity.

Therefore, in that classroom, it was done right. My hon. colleague from the Bloc hit the nail on the head. Reducing the voting age unto itself does nothing. It is incorporating it with that opportunity that we have in that classroom to have all candidates' debates, to provide them with information and to have discussions. They can have a more informed opinion and decision, frankly, than their peers who are 18, 19 or 20 and do not have that opportunity.

This provides them with a base which will last a whole life. We have seen time and time again that if we can get young people to vote once, they are going to vote again and again. It is about giving them that opportunity in a supportive network.

We talked earlier about the fact that the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party and I believe the Bloc as well, all allowed 14 or 16 year olds to vote in nomination meetings and in leadership contests. They were allowed to select the leaders and through the leaders who the prime ministers were going to be. In that forum they actually have a larger say than in a general election where their vote would be more diluted. We allow them to vote in that forum, but not in the general forum. I think that is contradictory and causes problems.

The second thing that really struck me, when I was in those classrooms, was the energy and the enthusiasm and the excitement of those young people. What a wonderful thing to be able to go into a classroom and have young people being responded to and actually listened to. Not only do we value what they had to say, but we wanted to them the opportunity to express it in a vote, to be part of the broader system of how governments are selected, and how their country is run.

In that process we have to look at it as a chicken and egg scenario. In order to show young people that we are taking them seriously, we have to give them a voice. We have to stop patronizing them, and telling them that they are too stupid and they do not know enough.

In my youth wing that I have in my riding the young people who are there and also sit on my executive provide tremendous impetus for many of the things that I do. They are equal players. If there was not a youth wing when I started, I am not sure that I would have become a member of Parliament. These things are vital. As we seek ways to engage young people, this as an important step and an important piece in that tool kit.

I thank all members for the opportunity to work with me on this bill and provide the level of debate that has led the bill to this point.

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7:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

It being 7:16 p.m., the time provided for the debate has expired.

The question is on the motion. Is it the pleasure of the House to adopt the motion?

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7:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

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7:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

No.

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7:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

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7:15 p.m.

Some hon. members

Yea.

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7:15 p.m.

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.