An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voter and candidate age)

This bill was last introduced in the 38th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in November 2005.

Sponsor

Mark Holland  Liberal

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Nov. 4, 2004
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 8th, 2005 / 7 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Lloyd St. Amand Liberal 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.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

June 8th, 2005 / 6:55 p.m.
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Conservative

Jeremy Harrison Conservative 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

June 8th, 2005 / 6:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Navdeep Bains Liberal 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 ActPrivate Members' Business

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

Stéphane Bergeron Bloc 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.

Democratic ReformOral Question Period

June 7th, 2005 / 2:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, before she became a Liberal, the Minister responsible for Democratic Renewal was one of the co-sponsors of Bill C-261, which would lower the voting age to 16. She even toured the country in support of the bill.

My question is, now that she is a minister, does she still support Bill C-261 and the lowering of the voting age to 16?

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 6:15 p.m.
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Liberal

Scott Simms Liberal Bonavista—Exploits, NL

Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to stand today to talk about this serious issue, Bill C-261. I thank my colleague from Ajax--Pickering for bringing it forward because it is an issue that is very important to me.

I will start the debate by talking about a situation that happened to me in central Newfoundland. I am from a very rural riding. A 16 year old girl said that she wanted to talk to me about post-secondary education because she had a concern. I said that was fine and that we should talk about it. She brought forward not just some problems with the system for her and her family financially but she also presented some ideas.

She told me that she would never ever bring to the debate just problems. She said that she wanted to bring solutions as well. I listened to her and she made a very good debate. When the election was over, I saw her again and asked her how she felt. I told her that we would, hopefully, be able to move forward on it. What she asked me was whether it mattered and had I listened. Well I looked at her and admitted that I had not really listened because I knew she could not vote.

That is the problem that comes into this. When someone is 16 or 17 they are making life decisions, decisions about careers and family but we did not listen to them because they could not vote. To me, that was the ultimate crime. I want to give her that chance.

The charter states that every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein. I cannot think of a better person than that young lady who talked to me so intelligently about her situation and who brought forward solutions. That is the type of debate we need to have.

I think engaging our youth is the issue in which our communities need to get involved. We need to engage the entire community, young and old, and the community consists of secondary schools.

My hon. colleague from the New Democratic Party talked about the debate that was going on in a school and how informed the students were. If we give them the right to vote, are we going to listen? Of course we will listen and we will take action this time because in the end we need their support.

Imagine sitting at the dinner table with a daughter, like the one I spoke about earlier, who says, “Dad, I don't like your thinking on post-secondary education, I don't like the way you are voting and I think you should vote another way”. The Dad may reply by saying that it was unfortunate she felt that way and then she might reply by saying that she would cancel his vote.

All of a sudden we have empowered our youth. These people are mature enough and engaged enough and we need to recognize that. That is why I am honoured to stand here to talk about Bill C-261.

It is nice to see that we have support from all parties in the House. It is one of those issues that tie us because we have children and we want to engage our children to do this. Voter turnout in my riding was pathetic. It was less than 50%. What a crime. To get 16 and 17 year olds to vote puts excitement into this debate. It allows them to have a say and it elevates them because now they would have an opinion and we as adults would finally listen. They are in grade 11 or grade 12, but when we speak to them, as we have done, we will listen. To me that would be the biggest benefit of this bill because they do believe in these issues. They do have opinions on same sex marriage and on ballistic missile defence. We just do not take the time to get another perspective, but the bill certainly would.

My hon. colleague quoted a fellow Newfoundlander, Rick Mercer. I will quote him again because he was doing one of his typical rants, as he likes to call them. He said, “If I were 16, I would write my member of Parliament, I would complain, except if I were 16 they wouldn't care what I had to say because I don't have the vote and that's the problem”.

My hon. colleague from Newmarket talked about the poll that was done recently of a thousand respondents. One of the questions was: Do you feel a sense of responsibility to inform yourself about public policy issues or is public policy an area that government should deal with on your behalf? Of the young respondents, 27% said that it was their personal responsibility, while 63% said that the government should decide for them. The reason I believe that is so is because we told them that is the way it is.

Now we have to tell them that their opinion does count and that they can take a personal interest in the rest of their lives. Even at 16 and 17 they can make the decisions for the rest of their lives.

Another question was: Would you be very likely, somewhat likely, somewhat unlikely or very unlikely to vote in the next election if allowed? The poll showed that 23% said unlikely, while 76% said likely. They say that no government works on their behalf and that they really do not have much say on the issue, but 73% said that if they were given the chance they would stand up. I think it is time we gave them the chance.

One of my hon. colleagues complained that we would be the first country to do this. Why can we not be the first country? Let us be the first country to tell our young people that they can vote, that they can have a say and have the power. I think that would be the greatest benefit of this particular situation.

The last point I want to make is about my home. I am from a rural riding where out-migration is at a terrible level. I was a victim of that out-migration. I was 17 years old when I left my hometown of Bishop's Falls in central Newfoundland, a town of less than 4,000 people.

The first time I ever voted in my life I was in a foreign land: New Brunswick, which is somewhat foreign, but it is foreign when one is from a small town in Newfoundland.

The thing is that I wanted to vote in my hometown. I wanted to get involved in my hometown. If we do not involve our youth in the little town of Bishop's Falls, then we are in trouble.

Let us imagine answering the door and a young lady is standing there. She says that her name is Jessica, that she is 16 years old, and that she is running for town council and wants our vote. Can anyone imagine a 16 year old candidate? I may not vote for her but I guarantee I will remember her. That young lady will inspire me and she will inspire her friends to vote as well. We are dealing with younger people who have opinions and well thought out ideas and now it is up to us to recognize that they have that voice.

I want to do this for rural Canada. I definitely want to do this for rural Newfoundland and Labrador because I believe in it. I believe that our children, 16 and 17 year olds, should have that voice.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 6:05 p.m.
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NDP

Nathan Cullen NDP Skeena—Bulkley Valley, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleagues for probably one of the most enjoyable debates of the day, the most informative at the very least. Not to comment on the excitement of prebudgetary consultations but this debate is clearly engaging some members in the House in bringing before us a fundamental question about how we view our democracy, how we view the responsibility that we share as Canadians.

We often lament to voters who do not come to the ballot box and say that men and women died for this right. People for generations have fought here and abroad in foreign lands for the very right to engage in the political process. Some of the arguments saying that this bill is not good for Canada today are most profound in their simplicity and their lack of vision and courage for the country that we are trying to create for Canadians. I proudly and strongly stand in support of my colleague on Bill C-261.

Engaging young people and engaging Canadians in the debate about where we want to lead this country is fundamental to the very things that we do here each and every day. This bill has been introduced a number of times, twice before by my party, but they were in circumstances where the government of the day was able to run over it, ignore it, dispel it and push it to the background.

Now we have an opportunity. I was most encouraged by the member's choice in coming to all parties and engaging people from all corners of the House to try to find a practical and real way to engage young Canadians in the political process, because by all the numbers and by all the studies we know that they are not. There are very few political scientists, politicians and policy makers who are able to convince anyone in this country that this trend is not going to simply continue down the slippery slope.

We often lament to the Americans that only 50% of Americans vote in their federal elections, decide who the next president, congressmen and senators will be. We are quickly matching them on these numbers. I fear to think about what kind of place we will eventually end up with and what percentage of Canadians will actually decide who sits in the House to pass such important laws, bills such as the one that was proposed by the government this morning, the same sex marriage legislation. How many people will decide this? If we are not encouraging young people to join in on the debate in a real, practical and empowered way, then how and when if not now?

I was speaking to a page yesterday, not on this particular bill but on her experience in the House of Commons to this point six months in. She was very professional in not presenting a partisan view, but she did express her level of engagement and interest in what was going on here, how enthusiastic she was about some of the debates. She said that her friends would return home at night and have discussions about these things. Oh, would that we had this problem in this country with young people, that there were young people at home right now saying, “Did you hear what happened in the House of Commons today? A bill was introduced. What do you think about it? What would you do? What will you be voting on in the next federal election whenever it comes?” We should have this interest level.

The consideration by some of the members present that someone at the age of 16 or 17 cannot be given the sincere and profound responsibility of voting their local representative into the House, yet at age 14 can vote in a potential prime minister through a leadership convention is absolutely absurd. If this is the case, then quickly we must change the way that our parties function, their constitutions and bylaws, to ensure that nobody below the age of 18 has any significant responsibility and decision making in choosing something as important as the leaders of our parties. Clearly we have to change all of our bylaws. If members of the House are looking to strike this bill down, then I look forward to their making presentations at their own conventions to make sure that everything else falls in line.

I had the sincere pleasure of living in Costa Rica for a while and I witnessed one of its federal elections. What a contrast. There were parties in the street and people engaging for months beforehand. The most incredible thing was watching families going together to the ballot box. In Costa Rica there are two ballot boxes, one for below the voting age and one for above. The young people cast their ballots. There is the same list of candidates, the same parties, and the results are released on television at the same time. What this created, and I witnessed this in the houses of Costa Rican friends, was a debate within the families.

A lot of people are concerned that parents will direct the young people. The most engaging all candidates debate I participated in during the last federal election was at a high school. It was a fascinating experiment. In the afternoon the high school classes came in, students who were 15, 16 and 17 years old. Their teachers had prepared them on the issues. The students had thought about and considered the issues for weeks before the debate. In the evening we had a debate in the same auditorium which was open to the community.

Out of the nine or ten all candidates debates we had throughout the course of the election, the candidates all agreed that the debate with young people in that high school that afternoon was the most informed and passionate one. It was difficult for the candidates because the young people knew their issues. They knew what they were talking about. They brought hard questions for the candidates because they cared.

As my hon. colleague mentioned, when we present the issues to young people in Canada, they have opinions lo and behold. They have intelligence. They have enough compassion and commitment to make decisions about the future direction of our country.

The cynical side of many of us would say that this is a strategic decision for parties, to find advantage or disadvantage in allowing young people to vote. I call upon members to have the courage to seek out a vision for this country. They must have the courage to go forth to young people and present their vision of this country, the courage to say that we care passionately about what the young people care about, and that we will enact legislation in this House that positively affects their lives and their future.

This is as opposed to what we do right now in understanding where the percentages are. If we are going to upset one group, is it going to be seniors or young people? Well, let us run the numbers. That is what the cynic wants to say.

I want to present to the House that in this tour that is going across the country, people should ask their constituents. Members should ask the families in their ridings whether they believe that the young people in their lives, be they their children or people in their community, have the intelligence and the capacity when presented with the issues of the day, when presented with the options, the parties and the candidates, to cast a vote in the best interests of their future and the future of their community and their country.

The young people that are engaged, and we have heard testimony here in the House today, clearly have the capacity and the ability to come into this process. The cigarette companies and the cola companies have figured it out. What we must do is engage people at a young age and create the culture of voting. I saw a culture of voting in Costa Rica with turnouts of 80% plus in its federal election. I saw a culture of voting and a culture of democracy which we are sadly lacking.

The last election was meant to be a ferocious debate. It was to be a debate on principles and one which would intimately engage Canadians and the numbers would skyrocket in participation. Sadly, after voting day we saw yet again that Canadians were not being engaged.

After the high school debate that I witnessed in Kitimat, B.C. I went knocking on doors. Many times the people who came to the door were informed. They said that they knew me, that their daughter or their son talked about seeing me. They said that it was the first time that their son or daughter had come home from high school bubbling and talking about the issues that they had been presented with. The young people wanted to engage their families in the upcoming federal election, letting them know when the date was, making sure that they would actually vote. They said that they did not have the ability to cast a vote and that their parents must vote.

The number of people who told me this was astonishing. I made a commitment to visit the schools not for partisan reasons, but for reasons to engage young people, to present the issues, same sex marriage, legalization of pot, all the big issues that the House will be facing in the coming weeks. Lo and behold, the young people have opinions. Lo and behold, they want to do research and they want to find something out.

I wish that were my experience with the so-called adult mature community of this country, that when I engage them they immediately want to go out and study the issues, that they want to find out something about the issues and come back with their opinions.

Recently at York University there was a very tragic scene. Young people were engaging in their right to protest a decision that had been made. During that protest the police came in and rude is the most mild word to use but it bordered on illegal and I hope that charges are pressed. I would encourage the dean of York University to withdraw the charges against the students.

I want to remind the House that in this minority government, in this Parliament that is bringing forth the values and interests from across this region, from across the parties herein lies an opportunity for us to redefine democracy and to re-engage our young people in the passion that we all feel for this great country.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Michel Guimond Bloc Charlevoix—Montmorency, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-261, introduced by our Liberal colleague, which calls for the voting age to be reduced to 16 years.

I would like to situate this in context. In Quebec, the age was dropped from 21 years to 18 in 1963. In Canada, the first election in which anyone under the age of 21 could vote was held in 1972. So, the question of lowering the voting age to 16 years has been raised regularly for about 20 years. This is what one might call an ongoing debate with periodic recurrences.

In February 2001 and in 2003, two NDP members introduced bills similar to Bill C-261, which we have before us today. Theirs did not, however, differentiate between the age for voters and the age for candidates. Under the parliamentary rules of the day, neither bill was votable.

I would like to take this opportunity to properly present the two opposing points of view. There are a number of debates here in this House, not only those that confront party differences or the differences between us sovereignists and the other members of this House who are federalist. In this case, since this is an important issue and can trigger debate, there will be arguments for and arguments against. Anyway, there is no such thing as unanimity of thought or magical thought on this earth.

I would like to start by illustrating certain points in favour of this reform. Other colleagues have already spoken on this. It is being argued that this measure could get young people more involved in politics. A recent study suggests that people who start voting early keep on voting throughout their lives. It is presumed that young people would have their first contact with politics when still in school, which would help prepare them for later life, through such things as civic courses.

On the other hand, reference is made to certain inconsistencies between our present system, with the Elections Act stipulating that the minimum voting age is 18 years, and other legislation that contains age restrictions. I would like to point out some of these inconsistencies.

Among other things, at 17, one can enroll in the army and go off to war. At 16, one can drive a car. Everyone will agree that these are actions with potentially more serious consequences than one individual's vote. At 16, at the wheel of a car, one can endanger someone else's life as well as one's own. At 16, a young person can decide to leave school. At 14, one has the right to work, and with a high enough income, the duty to pay taxes. At 14—16 in Quebec—a young offender may be charged in adult court. At 14 in Quebec, a teenager has the right to consent to receive or refuse medical care, with one anomaly in the jurisprudence: a court may order a 14-year-old to take medical treatment. At 14 one can marry.

Those who say that the right to vote should be extended to 16-year-olds consider it a question of fairness, and ask the following question, more or less: why do informed and motivated young people of 16 not have the right to vote when poorly informed and uninterested adults do?

On the flip side are those people who have quite the opposite opinion. They tell us that comparing the right to vote to other rights shows there is a problem with the age of criminal liability and that to use responsibility at an early age would be to approve a reduction a priori. We have to look at how all this fits in the Young Offenders Act. The Bloc Québécois was against lowering the age of criminal liability.

There is another aspect. Before the age of 18, the contractual liability of a minor is limited. Does lowering the voting age have an impact on contractual liability? Should this be amended in any way?

Although it is possible to do so, we know that until the age of 18 is reached, parental consent is required for marriage and enlisting in the army. Earlier we heard that a minor is not treated as an adult when receiving medical attention. Also, you have to be 18 to buy cigarettes or alcohol. What about the right to vote? Is there a link between these legal provisions?

In a way, the right to vote marks the arrival at the age of majority, when all restrictions related to being under age are lifted. To those who oppose I ask, how do you reconcile allowing a person the right to vote when he cannot enjoy all the other rights and freedoms?

Some observers or specialists argue that youth under 16 are not mature or knowledgeable enough to make an informed decision. I admit that this argument advocates the elitist concept of the right to vote. As far as I am concerned, I am not prepared to equate 16 years of age with a lack of maturity, because we all know of someone, regardless of their age, who still has not achieved maturity. Let us be clear. We must avoid making a direct link between age and maturity. There are young people, 16 or 17, who are perfectly mature.

Young people themselves do not seem convinced. In fact, according to a November 2004 poll, approximately 37% of young Canadians and Quebeckers aged 14 to 17 say they are interested in politics. However, 50% of them would like to have their say. Furthermore, 50% believe that lowering the voting age to 16 is a good idea, while the other 50% believe the opposite.

I have illustrated that the two opinions are diametrically opposed and balanced. There is support and opposition.

However, a vast majority of young people, 76%, state that they would travel to vote if they had the right. However, in the most recent federal election, voter turnout among young people between the ages of 18 to 21 was 38.7%, compared to 60.9% for Canada overall.

I have the following question: do we know for sure that lowering the voting age would mean higher voter turnout among young people? I think this is difficult to prove.

I am running out of time, but I could have mentioned the March 2003 reform of democratic institutions, on which Claude Béland submitted his report containing various recommendations including keeping the voting age at 18. I could have talked too about the fact that, in the vast majority of countries around the world, the voting age is 18 and that polled countries where the voting age is 15 or 16 are, in some cases, ones where the word democracy has to be written in quotation marks.

In closing, there is no magic solution. I believe that the debate needs to continue in this institution called Parliament. If the House of Commons approves this legislation at this stage, in my opinion, the appropriate committee, which is the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, should seriously consider this issue, hear witnesses and report back to the House on this bill.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 5:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

Scott Reid Conservative Lanark—Frontenac—Lennox and Addington, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am here today to address Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act, voter and candidate age.

As far as I have seen, there are two rationales that have been provided in favour of this legislation. The first is that people effectively become adults or capable of adult actions before they reach the age of 18 and therefore they ought to be permitted to vote, which of course is an action where one requires a certain level of maturity to participate in intelligently.

The second rationale is that giving people the vote at age 16 would familiarize them with the voting process, thereby raising the participation rate among those in the age 18 to 25 cohort who are currently eligible to vote but who do so at less than a 25% rate of participation.

I will address both of those arguments in turn. I must say, I think both of them are incorrect. I will address both of them in turn and then turn to some additional observations.

My response to the argument that 16 year olds are de facto adults or are capable of acting as adults would be the following. The proponents of the bill have pointed out that many of the privileges and obligations of adult life kick in before a person is 18. Surely, they argue, it is odd to allow people to engage in driving at age 16, to join the army at age 17 and to have sex with adults at age 14, all of which is permitted in Canada, and yet to withhold the right to vote.

Leaving aside the age of consent in Canada, which I think should be raised from 14, I will just point out that in most provinces in Canada, voting age adults are denied the right to drink alcohol or even to purchase cigarettes until they are 19 years old. In the United States they can vote when they are 18, but they cannot drink until they are 21. So the age at which we achieve these mileposts of maturity in adulthood vary within jurisdictions without necessarily being a sign of injustice.

I might point out that there was a time in the United States when people could only vote at the age of 21, but they could drink at 18. Now it has been reversed. I am not sure that this indicates a great injustice.

My response to the argument that giving the vote to 16 year olds would increase participation rates among 18 to 25 year old is twofold. First, I would start by agreeing that this is a genuine problem. We see declining voter turn-out rates among young voters and it appears to be a problem that is growing over time.

I would like to quote what Margaret Adsett wrote in a recent issue of the Journal of Youth Studies. She said:

After the 1980 election...a consistent pattern of lower voter turnout with decreasing age emerged, and the spread in the turnout rates by age groups consistently increased. The difference in the spread was 19.5% in 1984, and it rose to 34.4% in 2000.

This is a very real and growing problem. However much of this seems to have nothing to do with voting age. Young people seem to be less involved in the political system in a variety of ways that have no relationship to the voting age and therefore are not curable by means of an adjustment to the voting age.

For example, a survey conducted in the year 2000 revealed that while 60% of Canadians of all ages, including 33% of Canadians born before the year 1943, held membership in one or another of the political parties. Only 2% of those between the ages of 18 and 27 were party members, and that is despite the fact that both the Conservative and Liberal Parties make provision for people under the age of 18 to hold party memberships.

I believe there are ways of increasing the participation rate for people in the 18 to 25 age cohort. Let me run through a few of those.

One thing that the Chief Electoral Officer has already started to do, the results of which cannot be felt until the next election, was to conduct a series of student votes at high schools across the country in the year 2004, including seven or eight high schools in my own constituency and many hundreds of others across the country. The purpose of this was to familiarize 14, 15, 16 and 17 year olds with what it is like to participate in an election, thereby preparing them for the next election, when they are old enough to vote.

I think that was a profitable measure. It is now in place and it probably deserves to be expanded to a wider selection of high schools across the country.

My hon. colleague from Ajax—Pickering pointed out that people who are 18 have typically moved away from home and are difficult to register to vote. He has suggest that we try to register them while they are still at home.

The obvious solution to this is to have another enumeration. We used to enumerate in Canada and register those people despite the fact they moved away from home. If we simply reintroduce the enumeration system, which, frankly, we need to take care of all the adult voters who are being left off the voters list, this would do much, not merely to capture younger voters and cause them to vote in increased numbers, but also to ensure that people of all ages who are currently being left off the voters list are being captured and therefore able to participate in greater numbers than is currently occurring. Of course voter participation rates are declining in all age groups.

We frequently talk about European countries where there are higher voter participation rates than in Canada or in the United States. Typically, in Europe elections occur on weekends rather than on weekdays as in North America. Simply changing the day of the week on which elections are conducted would boost voter participation rates or indeed holding elections over a two day period rather than simply one.

The greater availability of advance polls, particularly the greater widespread geographic availability of advance polls would have a significant impact as well. As someone who represents a rural riding, I am very conscious of just how important this really is.

Finally, I want to turn to another issue which is to look around the world. I am a comparative historian. I always do this when I look at any policy. What do other countries and other jurisdictions do? What can we learn from them? We can learn that the practice of lowering the minimum voting age below 18 is not a very common practice. There are no major democracies in the world in which the voting age starts below the age of 18. None of the great democracies of the Commonwealth and British common law tradition have a voting age below the age of 18: not Canada, of course, nor any of our 13 provinces and territories; not the United States or any of its 50 states; not Australia or any of its six states and several territories; not the United Kingdom or any of its devolved regions; not India or any of its mini states; not any of the dozen or so Commonwealth democracies in the Caribbean. The same is true for every democracy in continental Europe and Latin America. When we add to this the many thousands of local jurisdictions in Canada, the United States, Australia and elsewhere, none of which allow voting below the age of 18, I think the trend is apparent.

However voting is permitted at age 15 in Iran and in Brazil, according to my colleague from Ajax—Pickering, and also in Nicaragua, Cyprus and Cuba, although how much a vote in Castro's Cuba is worth is an open question. I would like to see some evidence from Canada's own municipal and provincial experience to indicate what voting at age 16 is actually like and what its implications are before jumping in at the federal level.

In the United States the states have been referred to as the laboratories of democracy. In Canada I would like to see us experiment with any such innovations at lower levels of government before we adopt them at the level where the stakes are the highest. This has been the process in the past with various electoral reforms, changes to the first past the post system, referendums, recall and the various other types of innovations in democracy. It would be profitable for us to start there in Canada as well and for that reason I will be recommending to members of Parliament that they vote against Bill C-261.

Canada Elections ActPrivate Members' Business

February 1st, 2005 / 5:30 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

moved that Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voter and candidate age), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, I want to begin by taking the opportunity to thank the member for Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor for seconding this motion and the 20 individuals who seconded the bill.

I also want to recognize the multi-partisan nature of this effort. There is a caucus leader within each party. I want to recognize the member for Newmarket—Aurora, the member for Verchères—Les Patriotes and also the member for Skeena—Bulkley Valley, who have all, within the different political parties, been coming together and fighting this issue, recognizing that there is a serious problem in this country. That problem is with the disengagement of our youth from our political process.

We need only to look at the last couple of federal elections to see what the impact of this disengagement has been. We see that roughly 25% of young people in the 2000 election actually came out to vote. We notice that in the 2004 election, which has just happened, only 33% came out to vote.

We need to do something fundamental to change this. If we extrapolate this over time, we will have a situation where roughly a quarter of the population will be deciding the fate of the entire nation. That is indeed a serious problem.

I think that reducing the voting age to 16 represents an incredible opportunity. It represents an opportunity to engage youth while they are still in a general education environment and to give them an opportunity, frankly, that their parents would not even have had.

In school, for example, while I can assure everyone that the candidates would go to schools and talk to the students, there would be a supportive environment, maybe leading up from ages 14 and 15 to 16, for them to talk about issues and get engaged. It would not be merely academic; they would actually know that they would be able to take action on something. It would be a tremendous opportunity. By the time they get to 18, they are often disengaged, and often they can be 20 or even 21 before they get to vote for that first time. By then, they are often disengaged and they are not in a general education environment any more. Their patterns have already been established.

This has been shown time and time again. The member for Newmarket—Aurora conducted a lot of polling and I thought some of it was very interesting. We got a lot of it on the Vote16.ca website. It demonstrates very clearly that young people are very interested in voting. We know that if we can get them to vote once they will vote again and again. This is about establishing patterns and turning it around.

What are the arguments for not doing this? What are the reasons for us not moving forward and pursuing this bill?

Some would say that young people are not mature enough and that they simply do not have the cognitive capacity to be part of our electoral process. I take great exception to that.

My experience in dealing with 16 year olds and 17 year olds is that they are exceptionally sharp. They are individuals who often have a clear vision or who may be confused but have clear ideas about the things that are going to be impacting them. Whether or not it is post-secondary education, finding a summer job so that they can afford to go to school afterward, or finding something after school in trades or apprenticeships, their eyes are turning to the future.

It is not that long ago that the same argument being made about 16 year olds and 17 year olds was being made about women: the argument was that women do not have the mental capacity to comprehend political problems.

Often this issue of maturity is used to not allow different segments of our population to have a voice. In reality that is exactly what this bill is: it is to give young people a voice, to give them their rightful place as others have gained their rightful places, whether it has been women, aboriginals or other groups that have been denied the right to vote. This is to give them their rightful place, to give them an opportunity to have a say on the issues that matter to them and an opportunity to be part of the broader mosaic that makes the decisions on what is going to happen in this country.

There is another argument that I have heard and it is that young people “are just going to follow their parents” when they vote. “They are just going to do what their parents say,” I have been told. As an anecdote, I can tell members that after a long discussion with an 80 year old lady whose door I knocked on, I asked her, “Have you ever voted Liberal?” She said, “Well, there was the one time that my sister Mabel voted Liberal”. It was that sort of time. All of them in the family could remember when somebody broke ranks and decided not to follow the lead of their parents.

The reality is that we all come to our voting decisions in different ways. Sometimes it is because we trust those in our family and decide to make a decision that way. Sometimes we have the strength of our own personal convictions, which differ from those of our family. But certainly it is not an issue that is exclusive to 16 year olds and 17 year olds.

On the issue of youth being too radical, this is something else I have heard. “Youth are too radical. If given the opportunity to vote, they are going to do something dramatic and it is going to dramatically change the course of the nation”. This certainly contradicts the first argument; either they are just going to follow somebody or they are going to be radical. In my opinion, if we look at it in terms of overall population, a demographic, these youth would represent a small group, but a group that should have the opportunity to have a say.

The opposite is sort of true. If these individuals are not given the opportunity to have their say in our political process, to come forward and state the issues that matter to them, oftentimes their issues then are not listened to.

Rick Mercer had a very interesting quote on this. Sometimes humour is a good way to approach things. He said, “If I was 16, I would write members of Parliament and I would complain, except if I was 16 they wouldn't care what I had to say because I don't have the vote, which is the problem in the first place”. This leads to a cycle of neglect. Often young people's issues are not given the attention they deserve because they are not given a voice in our political process.

Maybe one of the reasons they are not engaged is because we are not speaking to them. We are not talking to them about the kinds of issues that really have an impact in their lives. If they had the opportunity in a general education environment, when they are 16 and 17, before they go to wherever they have go and it is hard to get a hold of them, to actually engage in debate and discussion with candidates, we would have a renewed opportunity to talk to them about their issues. They would have an opportunity to say back to politicians, “You have to listen to us. We are a group now that must be reckoned with”.

I know the issue of the Supreme Court case recently came up. There were two youth that challenged the constitutionality of 16 and 17 year-olds not being allowed to vote. The Supreme Court ruled that ultimately it is a decision of Parliament. It acknowledged that it is in fact discrimination, but it is a political decision that must be made.

In Canada not too long ago, a person had to be 21 years old to be able to vote. If we look at other jurisdictions, Brazil has changed the voting age to 16 and Germany has changed the voting age for municipal elections to 16. This debate is happening in the U.K. legislature. As part of our broader process on engagement and talking about how we talk to young people, there is a movement to deal with this issue.

Youth have so many different responsibilities. This is one of the other arguments we talk about. We have sort of this contradiction with them. We expect them to be very responsible with certain things. Yet when it comes to giving them a voice and an opportunity to vote, we say they do not know enough. That is a contradictory message. We give them the opportunity to drive at 16. We give them the opportunity at 17 to join our armed forces and fight for this nation.

We give youth the opportunity at leadership conventions to select the leaders of our respective parties, who become prime ministers. That certainly is something that we all think is acceptable. In fact, in all of our nominations youth as young as 14 are allowed to select who their local candidate will be.

We have this inherent contradiction. On one hand we say they are not responsible enough; on the other hand we are giving them these sets of responsibilities. We need to bring in line those other things we are asking of them and give them an opportunity to have a voice.

I see it as a graduated process, as an opportunity at 14 years of age to join a political party, to engage in vigorous debate in school and in that general education environment, all of which will graduate to the opportunity to vote at the age of 16 in a safe environment, and perhaps cast ballots perhaps in a school. One of the problems we have with young people is that by the time they are 19 or 20 or 21, they have moved away from home, they have gone to college or university, they are in trades, they are very hard to pin down and they are not registered. That is not the case when they are younger. We can register them, we have the opportunity to talk to them, and they have a safe and secure environment of a school in which to cast their ballots.

I have to speak to this because I think it really talks to the broader issue. I have had the opportunity to work with some remarkable people from both sides of the House on this issue, who I think share the conviction that this is not the only solution. I think this is part of it. It is part of a broader discussion that we need to have in general about young people, about how we get them excited in our political process, how we engage them, how we make sure they do come out and vote, and how they do care. I think fluffing it off and saying they are only interested in Jessica Simpson or Britney Spears misses the point. We are setting a very dangerous precedent that we have to redress.

We will be going across the country very soon speaking to different individuals in different parts of the country, going into schools and speaking with parents about this idea and about the opportunities that exist for youth. Through that process I hope that every single member of Parliament in the House and Canadians in general will engage in a debate about how we get our young people excited about politics, and how we get them to be passionate about the process that so many have died for.

I think we take for granted in this country the fact that wars have been fought to give us the right to vote, that people have died and laid down their lives so that we can sit in this chamber and vote freely.

We often forget that in other parts of the world, most recently in the Ukraine, people are protesting in the streets demanding what we take for granted.

We have a responsibility to connect with our youth and to get them excited. This is an opportunity that we cannot pass up. Let us respect them. Let us recognize that they have a legitimate place in our system and deserve a voice. Let us move forward on that basis.

I urge all members to support Bill C-261. I encourage them to contact my office or the seconder's office for more information and to visit our website at vote16.ca.

Canada Elections ActRoutine Proceedings

November 4th, 2004 / 10:15 a.m.
See context

Liberal

Mark Holland Liberal Ajax—Pickering, ON

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-261, an act to amend the Canada Elections Act (voter and candidate age).

Mr. Speaker, I rise to introduce a bill which seeks to increase the participation of youth in Canada's electoral system.

The bill would lower the federal voting age to 16 so that young people could learn to be active electors while they are still in school. Unlike previous bills on this subject, it would keep the age to be a candidate at 18.

I urge all members to support the bill. I am happy to work with members of all parties to make the bill a reality.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)