Nfld. & Labrador·Opinion

Politicians are on TikTok. Explain to me again why teens like me can't vote?

Like a lot of teenagers, Jake Thompson has a job and pays taxes. Yet he has no means of deciding who represents him, as he is too young to vote. He makes his case in a guest column for CBC Opinion.

Lower the voting age to 16, argues Jake Thompson in a guest column for CBC Opinion

St. John's high school student Jake Thompson, 16, says teens his age are engaged on the issues but are unable to follow through with voting. (Mike Moore/CBC)

This column is an opinion by Jake Thompson, a high school student in St. John's.


For the last couple of weeks, I've been noticing both aspiring and seasoned politicians putting their hats in the ring for the municipal elections that are set to happen this fall across Newfoundland and Labrador.

When I look at my Twitter feed in my hometown of St. John's, and see new, young candidates like Jess Puddister or Meghan Hollett announce their candidacy, a smile comes to my face.

But then I remember — I'm too young to vote.

This year, one of my required high school courses was Social Studies 1201. I found it to be one of the most interesting classes that I've taken in my schooling career. A prominent unit in this course is called "Levels of Government."

We had the chance to learn about the order of government, the process of running in an election, and even the scandals and backstabbing that happens on a busy house floor atop Parliament Hill.

This unit led the way to some great open class discussions and debates among students and teachers alike, and some were more heated than others.

The question that puzzles my brain the most is what separates me so distinctly from someone just a year and a half older, leaving me unable to vote. I'm 16.

I pay taxes. Where is the representation? 

Like many my age, I have a job, and I pay taxes. I drive on our roads and eat and shop at our local businesses.

So what makes me so different from someone just a year and a half older?

Municipal elections will be held in St. John's and other municipalities across Newfoundland and Labrador this fall. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

I've seen many people use the argument that we aren't "responsible enough" to make an informed decision on who should represent us. Some say that we just aren't interested. I'd like to invite those people into my social studies classroom for an hour just to hear some of our class discussions about politics.

Our elected government officials, on all levels, make the biggest decisions about our lives. They decide what happens with our health care, schooling and in many cases our safety and general well-being.

Think about a 16- or 17-year-old in your life. Have you ever heard them complain about an issue they've had in their school or during a trip to the hospital? Maybe if we were allowed to vote and have a say in the representatives we have in government, there would be fewer of these issues occurring.

There have been multiple attempts in Canada to get the voting age lowered to 16. Many petitions have circulated on the internet with this intention but nothing has come of them.

Studies have shown that a potential voter who starts participating in elections at a young age tends to stick with it as a lifelong voter. Our textbooks in school are written in a way to persuade us to vote. A whole section teaches about the start of democracy in Canada and talks about the times when women weren't able to vote.

Just imagine…

In May 2020, senator and human rights activist Marilou McPhedran of Manitoba argued that saying "teenage brains are not fully developed so they can't make an proper informed decision and vote" is the same stereotypical argument used by men who thought that women shouldn't have been able to vote up until the 1920s and '30s when they finally won those powers.

Just think about where we would be right now if women still weren't allowed to vote or run in elections. It's hard to imagine, right?

Hopefully, in about 50 years from now it will be hard for the kids in high school to imagine a time when they weren't allowed to vote. We need to make this change sooner rather than later.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, seen here posing for photos in 2019 with university students, is one of numerous politicians who have sought the youth vote. Thompson says voters not yet in post-secondary education should have the opportunity to vote for candidates. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

We live in a world where Jagmeet Singh, leader of Canada's New Democratic Party, is able to promote his platform on TikTok, an app primarily used by kids and teenagers for sharing dance and comedic videos with popular songs you'd hear in the Top 40.

We are taught about how to vote and especially why it is so important to vote. And yet … we can't.

Based on TikTok's average use, more than 40 per cent of Singh's viewers are under the age of 24. Other popular political accounts include Canadian Senator Kim Pate, who uses the app to educate viewers about topics like freedom of speech and eliminating poverty.

Teenagers follow these videos, we participate in class discussions, and we are taught about how to vote and especially why it is so important to vote.

And yet … we can't.

I call on all our government officials at the municipal, provincial and federal levels, as well as eligible voters, to think long and hard about what they can do to help our teenagers voices and issues heard.

Lowering the voting age by just two years would not only increase our voter turnout but make for a much stronger, superior and fairer group of elected officials.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jake Thompson

Contributor

Jake Thompson is a high school student at Waterford Valley High in St. John's. He is an active member of the local arts scene with his many puppetry projects.

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