The House of Commons will debate Wednesday on whether to lower Canada’s legal voting age to 16 years old.
New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh said at a press conference Tuesday that the idea – which is being put forward in an NDP private member’s bill – is important as young people are disproportionately affected by the decisions made by politicians, especially on issues such as climate change and the housing crisis.
Mr. Singh was joined by NDP MP Taylor Bachrach and Jan Eichhorn, an associate professor at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, whose research focuses on young people and politics.
Mr. Bachrach said the bill is about giving young people “a seat at our democratic table at long last.”
Issues such as climate change and housing are ones that young people care about and that affect them in profound ways, Mr. Bachrach said. “They deserve to have a voice in the conversation about those issues.”
He added that it is important to not talk about young voters only in the context of the future. “There are also issues on their mind that affect them in their daily lives that we need to hold in mind.”
Private members’ bills rarely become law, but they provide an opportunity to debate issues on the floor of the House of Commons.
Laura Stephenson, a political science professor at Western University, said in an interview that younger people often have a different “time horizon” on how they see their future.
“The more they see us messing up the world for them, the more they’re going to want it to be improved and they’re going to want to have a say,” Dr. Stephenson said.
Young people are most concerned about issues such as climate change, education and housing, Dr. Stephenson said. She added that young people also tend to vote more Liberal or NDP than Conservative, and isn’t surprised that the NDP is championing lowering the voting age because it could prove beneficial.
When asked how the bill could potentially benefit the NDP, Mr. Singh said lowering the voting age is about how to fundamentally strengthen democracy, and has been an effective tool used across the globe.
“We of course want to win elections, so that’s always something that we want to do because we want to provide better help to people and better representation,” Mr. Singh said.
Mr. Bachrach introduced the private member’s bill in the House of Commons in December. Bill C-210 would amend the Canada Elections Act and give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in federal elections.
Mr. Bachrach said he brought the bill forward because of bipartisan support for previously similar bills, which have been tabled 17 times since 1997.
NDP MP Don Davies brought forward several private member’s bills beginning in 2011 to lower the voting age but none were successful. In 2005, Liberal MP Mark Holland and current House leader brought forward a similar bill to lower the voting age to 16, but it was defeated at second reading.
Mr. Holland declined to comment on the NDP bill.
Mr. Singh said the bill will have the full support of the NDP, and encourages other members of the House to support the bill as it is “not a partisan issue, it’s a political issue.”
Jean-Sébastien Comeau, the spokesperson for Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities Dominic LeBlanc, said that the government looks forward to taking part in the debate in the House on the bill Wednesday.
The NDP’s bill follows a legal challenge launched last December that argues the section of the Canada Elections Act barring Canadians under the age of 18 from voting in federal elections is unconstitutional.
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