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Should 18-year-olds vote?

In Canada's early days, only a select group of privileged men could vote. Now it's a fundamental right for all Canadians over 18. Women, Asians, native people and prisoners were among those who gained the right to vote in Canadian elections over the past century — often amid controversy. CBC Archives explores the evolution of voting rights in Canada.

"Why is the voting age not lowered to 18?" asks a young woman in this radio report from 1948. It's a highly debated issue in the '40s. At the 1948 Hansard Society youth conference, Agnes Macphail - Canada's first female member of Parliament - says the voting age should be lowered. "I think a person at age 18 is as mature as a great many people ever are," she answers, and the audience of young people laughs.

MP John Diefenbaker is reluctant to say he supports the other side of the debate, but does suggest a few important points to think about. When Saskatchewan lowered the voting age to 18, he says, "a very small proportion" of those young people actually voted. 
• The voting age in Canada had been 21 since before Confederation.
• After the Second World War, when many 18-year-old men bravely fought for the country, there was a clear movement to drop the voting age to 18.

• In a 1945 speech by Mitchell Hepburn, leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, he discussed the importance of lowering the voting age to 18 to bring the fresh new ideas of the younger generation to the table. He also implied that these younger voters would be more apt to vote Liberal or CCF, rather than Conservative: "Frankly, I would prefer to take the judgement of many young men and women of 18 than I would the judgement of a lot of hard-shelled old Tories."

• The idea of lowering the voting age remained somewhat contentious from the 1940s until the early 1960s, as many Canadians were still reluctant to give younger people the vote. In a 1960 episode of CBC Radio's Assignment, regular Canadians were asked their opinion. Many thought the age should be lowered, but others were clearly opposed. One man, for instance, said the "teenage set" was "generally irresponsible," while another man interviewed simply stated "children do not reach the proper maturity until they're 21."

• Although dropping the voting age to 18 had been discussed for decades, the change didn't actually occur until 1970, under the Trudeau government. By this time, there was much less controversy surrounding the age change. Most Canadians agreed it was a sensible move. As A History of the Vote in Canada (1997) explains, "It was the '70s, the youth culture was at its height, and a general opening up of social and political life had begun as the politics of participation took hold."
Medium: Radio
Program: This Week
Broadcast Date: Nov. 13, 1948
Guest(s): John Diefenbaker, Agnes Macphail
Reporter: Bill Beatty
Duration: 4:32
Photo: National Archives of Canada

Last updated: April 17, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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