By Crystal Kingwell and Jennifer Lee
Those who say that 16-year-olds are not mature enough to be trusted with the vote are missing an important point: society already entrusts them with equally weighty responsibilities. Allowing them to vote is only logical.
The Progressive Group for Independent Business Youth, a Calgary-based group of people under 21, is currently lobbying the federal government to lower the voting age to 16.
They argue that young people are concerned with the economic health of the country and should have a say in how political decisions are made. They have already started a letter-writing campaign to convince federal politicians to give Canada’s youth a chance to cast their ballots. NDP Leader Alexa McDonough has already indicated she supports the idea.
The possibility of lowering the voting age brings to mind a fundamental question: at what point does a person become an adult? How old must you be before you can be trusted to make informed, rational decisions?
In our society, 16-year-olds are permitted to drive cars, move out of their parents’ houses, and get jobs. They get deductions taken from their paycheques just like everyone else. It’s the old argument from the American Revolution: no taxation without representation.
Sixteen-year-olds can also join the Armed Forces and even get married. These are not exactly inconsequential decisions.
Some may say that young people simply don’t want to vote. For many, this may be true. But it is equally true of some people in their 20s and 30s and beyond. No one can force people to go to the polls. But the fact that an organization such as the Progressive Group for Independent Business Youth even exists is evidence that there are some young people who are informed enough and who do want a chance to have their views heard. Why should they be denied simply because of what amounts to an arbitrary age limit?
Giving the vote to high school students would give more relevance to the classroom lectures on Canadian politics. It would make the system more real to them, because they would know that their opinions count. Rather than being passive observers, they would — or could — also be active participants.
Thirty years ago, no one under 21 could vote in this country. In 1972, the minimum age was lowered to 18, and Canada didn’t go to hell in a handbasket. And we won’t if we lower the age to 16.