Giving teenagers a say in their hometown politics and stimulating a young political mind before leaving home are two good reasons to extend the right to vote to more teenagers, a prominent Liberal says.
Jeff Marshall, acting treasurer of the provincial Liberal executive, wants the party to endorse his call to lower the minimum voting age in Newfoundland and Labrador from 18 to 16.
Marshall would like to see the voting aged lowered to 16 ahead of the next provincial election.
He said teenagers as young as 16 can be motivated to learn about local politics, particularly before they leave for college or work.
"When you're 16 years old you are in high school, a relatively stable environment," said Marshall.
"You are more likely to know your local candidate, more likely to be aware of the local issues and have opinions on things just by virtue of growing up in that community."
Elections Canada data show that only 27 per cent of Newfoundland and Labrador men under 25 voted in the last federal election in 2011 — the lowest turnout for that age group among the Canadian provinces.
About 32 per cent of women under 25 voted in that election, making the province tie with Saskatchewan for lowest turnout.
Speaking with CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show, Marshall — who is seeking the Liberal nomination in the district of Kilbride — said the timing is right to make a change.
"Think next year, or this coming year when you have a provincial and a federal election," said Marshall. "If someone graduates high school this year they will move to a different province or municipality," which Marshall said lessens the likelihood of an 18-year-old voting.
"They'll be moving to an area where they will be new, they won't know the provincial or federal candidate, they haven't had time to connect to the community and they are very unlikely to vote," he said.
Marshall said shifting the voting age from 18 to 16 brings with it more stability.
'There is no magic age where someone is going to be automatically ready' - Jeff Marshall
Marshall said the conversation about lowering the minimum voting age starts with acknowledging that any legal age is just an "arbitrary number."
"There is no magic age where someone is going to be automatically ready [to vote]," Marshall said.
"Maybe some people are never ready to vote," he added, asking the question, "what [voting age] is going to engage youth today but also help raise a future generation of younger voters who are going to be active in politics as well as being engaged?"
Marshall said at about the age 16, youth are concerned with things like where they will be living in the years ahead, the cost of education and graduating from post-secondary education with as little debt as possible.
"If you think about that, it is hard to come up with a downside, considering all of the positives," he said.
He expects the topic of decreasing the legal voting age to be discussed when the provincial Liberal party meets in central Newfoundland this weekend.
"I want Newfoundland and Labrador to lead the way on this. I think this is a smart policy that can increase [voter] turnout."