Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good evening, everyone. I would like to thank you for inviting us and for making it possible for the voice of New Brunswick's francophone youth to be heard on an issue that is so important for our country's future democracy.
My name is Sue Duguay and I am the president of the Fédération des jeunes francophones du Nouveau-Brunswick, the FJFNB.
The FJFNB is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to represent the interests of Acadian and French-speaking youth in the province of New Brunswick. It was founded in 1971, so we are celebrating our 45th anniversary this year. The Fédération operates according to a model designed by young people for young people. We look to a future in which Acadian and French-speaking youth can play a proud role in society in our own language and culture.
This year, the FJFNB has about 8,700 members. In fact, they are all students from the 22 francophone high schools in the province of New Brunswick.
As a socially committed young person and, since last May, the president of the FJFNB, I want to speak to you about a matter dear to our members, a voting age of 16.
At the outset, I want to tell you that I am fully aware that the matter of the voting age is not directly part of the committee's mandate. However, as you will be able to see in our presentation, bringing the voting age down to 16 is an effective way of enhancing the five great principles in your committee's mandate: effectiveness and legitimacy; engagement; accessibility and inclusiveness; integrity; and local representation. I therefore hope that our presentation will be instrumental in convincing your committee to review the voting age.
The FJFNB's 2014 annual general meeting gave us the mandate of working to lower the voting age to 16. The proposal to us from the province's young people was to press for a reduction in the voting age to 16 and for mandatory training on the electoral process in high school.
Our work to that end began in 2014. We have worked tirelessly to bring this proposal before the public. Our research convinces us that lowering the voting age to 16 would be beneficial for the Canadian electoral system.
Voting is a habit. Studies tend to demonstrate that once people vote, they will be inclined to continue to do so all their lives. Because of this, 16-year-olds, still in the school system and mostly living at home, would be in a situation that would encourage them to vote, especially for the first time.
In addition, as you have perhaps noticed, our members' proposal asks not only for a reduction in the voting age, but also for the addition of mandatory civic education courses to the school curriculum. These courses are extremely important in creating generations of voters with a full understanding of the electoral system. It is therefore important that the federal government, with its provincial counterparts, provide adequate civic education in the classroom.
To ensure that young people are properly educated, your committee could take the additional step of returning the mandate for education about the electoral system to the Chief Electoral Officer.
With a course in the schools and some enrichment during the election period, it is not unimaginable that lowering the voting age could help to combat the low turnout rate at elections, which is a reality in every province of Canada.
For those participating in the electoral system for the first time at 18, a large number of obstacles arise. For the most part, they no longer live at home. Often, they are enrolled in post-secondary education programs outside their constituencies. As you know, when you cannot physically get to the constituency of your official residence, you have to take special steps in order to vote. So that is an obstacle for that first-time vote.
In addition, those who study these matters agree that voting is a social act, that is, it is influenced by one's young peers. Here again, if they are no longer at home, no longer potentially in a school where education is more immediate, a new obstacle must be overcome.
Young people are interested, or at least want to be interested, in politics. We see it every day. I remind you that it was our members, the young francophones of this province, who formally asked us to work towards lowering the voting age to 16. They are interested in politics; however, since they cannot participate in the electoral process before they are 18, most of them feel disenchanted with a system that nevertheless affects them directly. Elected officials make decisions that influence and will continue to influence young people all through their lives, yet they have no voice.
A number of countries have already addressed the issue and some have lowered the voting age so that 16- and 17-year-olds can participate in the electoral process as voters. We may think of Austria, Brazil, or a number of other places. This change in mentality and in legislation has resulted in very positive outcomes.
Federally, we know that one bill, Bill C-213, introduced by New Democrat MP Don Davies, is currently on the Order Paper awaiting second reading. We hope that the government will allow this private member's bill to continue along its path.
In addition, let us not forget that, at 16, young people have the right to work, to drive, even to enlist in the army, but not to vote. I therefore feel that the voting age must reflect those other standards.
In closing, I feel that the idea of voting starting at 16 and of promoting mandatory civic education courses in schools would be a useful solution that could also contribute to improving the democratic process in Canada.
Thank you for your time and attention. Of course, I am available to answer your questions.