British Columbia

Allow under-18s to vote and engage as stakeholders in society, youth organization urges

The B.C. Green Party proposed lowering the provincial voting age to 16 earlier this week and, so far, public reaction to the idea has been mixed.

‘The myth out there about young people being apathetic is just that — a myth,’ says Check Your Head director

Allowing those under 18 to vote fosters a better engagement with democracy in young people, says Anastasia Gaisenok. (CBC)

Public reaction has been mixed to the B.C. Green Party's proposal earlier this week to lower the provincial voting age to 16.

But organizations that work with young people say youth are often much more engaged and opinionated than is generally presumed. 

"The myth out there about young people being apathetic is just that — a myth," said Anastasia Gaisenok, executive director of Check Your Head: The Global Youth Education Network.

The non-profit organization works with a variety of young people, many of whom express strong views about economic, environmental and social justice, Gaisenok told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

Voter participation by age group, 2017 Provincial General Election (Report of the Chief Electoral Officer/Elections B.C.)

Private member's bill

Premier John Horgan has said he willing to consider the private member's bill to lower the voting age put forth by B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver on Tuesday.

This is the third time Weaver has proposed the idea.

In the past, critics have argued voting requires a level of life experience and political knowledge that high school-aged citizens may not be ready for yet.

In the last provincial election, voter turnout for young people was high. More than 56 per cent of people between the ages of 18 to 24 voted — higher than both the 25-34 and 35-44 age bracket.

Gaisenok said she thinks the same would be true for those aged under 18 too.

"Given the opportunity, [they] participate and express their opinions and are prepared to take action on them," she said.

'Change the political landscape'

Gaisenok dismissed the argument that there could be political motivations for wanting to lower the voting age, such as some policies appealing to a younger generation and so gaining more support if they could vote.

"Young people do carry certain values but how politicians choose to approach that and how they use it, that's up to them," she said.

"What is important is for young people to have the opportunities and choices to affect the decision-making."

Inviting the upcoming generation into the decision-making process could reverberate politically, she added, because it will help younger people feel like stakeholders in the system rather than passive recipients.

"It will change the political landscape over time," she said. "I think this will encourage more young people to run for office and vote for politicians who represent their needs and perspectives."

With files from The Early Edition


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