Manitoba·Video

'I want a future': Winnipeg Centre high-schoolers weigh in on climate change, lowering the voting age

A class of Grade 9 students at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate are learning about democracy and politics in the lead up to the federal election, and most of them rank climate change action high on the list of things that would influence their votes — if they were technically able to cast ballots.

University of Winnipeg Collegiate students say climate action a top priority, torn over idea of voting at 16

University of Winnipeg Collegiate Grade 9 students are learning about democracy and politics in the lead up to the Oct. 21 federal election. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

The effects of climate change loom large on the minds of students in one Winnipeg Centre high school classroom where they're learning the importance of participation in democracy — and wondering about the impact they'd have if allowed to vote at 16.

Grade 9 students in teacher Michael Saj's class at the University of Winnipeg Collegiate are talking politics in the lead up to the federal election.

Most of them rank climate action high on the list of things that would influence their votes if they were technically able to cast ballots.

Three of four candidates in the school's riding of Winnipeg Centre — Robert-Falcon Ouellette (Liberal), Leah Gazan (NDP) and Andrea Shalay (Greens) — told CBC News they support lowering the voting age to 16.

Conservative candidate Ryan Dyck stopped short of saying he supports lowering the voting age, though he said he wants to see higher turnout and would be open to looking at multiple ways of getting youth more involved.

Four Winnipeg Centre candidates weigh in on the notion of lowering the voting age to 16 to combat low voter turnout and combat 3:28

Elizabeth Sengmany said she gets frustrated by people who deny the planet is warming due to human activities.

"Maybe, just maybe, if everyone just admitted that yes this is happening we'd be all more inclined to do something, for example adding compost bins to each school instead of just having recycling and garbage," she said.

Sengmany said she feels most young people in high school are engaged in what's going on in the world and deserve to show that at the polls.

Elizabeth Sengmany says many teens are engaged and paying attention to the world and deserve to have a say on who gets elected to represent their interests. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

She challenges adults who think 16-year-olds don't deserve the vote.

"Teenagers are kind of wishy washy — one day we're thinking this, the other day we're thinking that — but at the same time, change is a good thing," she said. 

"Adults change their mind all the time too, so we're just kind of miniature adults. Sure, we're a little temperamental but I think a lot of us are a lot more passionate."

Mahtab Mann and Prabhsimran Singh, both 14, both say climate change should be one of the most important issues for those who can vote this election, though they differ on the question of whether the voting age should be lowered. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Prabhsimran Singh, 14, and many of his classmates attended the global climate strike late last month.

He thinks fighting climate change is the key issue of the election and believes 16-year-olds should get to vote.

"There's not enough people voting and if teenagers go out and vote that would make a difference," he said.

"There [was], like, a majority of teenagers there, so it looked like that teenagers were more involved than the adults, because it depends on their future."

University of Winnipeg Collegiate students in Michael Saj's Grade 9 class tend to agree that climate action is a top priority, but they were less sure of whether lowering the voting age to 16 was a good idea. 1:56

His peer Mahtab Mann also feels strongly that politicians need to do more on the climate file or risk losing the support of future voters.

"If they are not going to do anything, then their votes, their political power, is going to go," said Mann.

But on the question of lowering the voting age, he and a few others aren't so sure.

"Lowering the age to 16 would not be a good idea, because at 16 essentially kids are not that improved in their political knowledge," he said.

Avery Arnold, left, and Henna Gill are in Grade 9 at the U of W Collegiate. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Avery Arnold, 14, doesn't think climate action is the top priority and also doesn't think 16-year-olds should vote.

"I don't think it will make a difference," she said, adding if she were 16 and legally permitted to vote she likely wouldn't.

"I'm not informed enough. There's a lot of things that we're learning in school and one that we should learn more about is politics."

Jasmine Gill is torn.

U of Winnipeg Collegiate student Jasmine Gill says the science is clear and she doesn't know what to tell people who deny climate change is an emergency caused by humans. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"It is our future and if we were to vote at 16, by the time a next federal election came we'd be 20 and it would affect our lives quite a bit, and we should get some say in that," said Jasmine Gill

What she is sure about is how important it is to her that those elected this fall do more to protect the Earth.

"I think it's a really big issue because I personally I want a future," she said. "There's evidence that shows that we're doing this."

Saj likes the idea of giving 16-year-olds more licence to influence the outcomes of Canadian elections.

Collegiate teacher Michael Saj says his students have been learning about democracy in the lead up to the federal election. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"I think it's a good idea and that the students don't give themselves enough credit," he said.

Those in Saj's class who oppose or are uncertain about lowering the voting age say, nonetheless, if they were given the option, most would take advantage of the opportunity and vote.

"They probably know more than the average voter does," Saj said. "We talk about it way more than probably most people do.… It would also force politicians to talk to kids."

Students at the U of W Collegiate won't be able to vote along with the rest of Canadian adults on Oct. 21. Instead, they're participating in their own mock vote this week, said Saj.

Four Winnipeg Centre candidates share their thoughts on the importance of climate change action to youth, and the notion of lowering the voting age. Then, students from U of W Collegiate weigh in. 3:48

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.