P.E.I. MLAs vote down proposal to lower voting age

For the second time in four years, the P.E.I. Green Party has failed in an attempt to lower the provincial voting age from 18 to 16.

Some PCs who voted in favour of the idea in 2017 now say their constituents are against it

A bill that would have lowered P.E.I.'s voting age from 18 to 16 has been defeated in the provincial legislature, the second such bill to be defeated in the past four years. (Al MacCormick/CBC)

For the second time in four years, the P.E.I. Green Party has failed in an attempt to lower the provincial voting age from 18 to 16.

This time, the Greens managed to win more votes than in their first attempt, while at the same time attracting less support from other parties in the legislature.

When the Election Age Act was called for a vote Tuesday, there were 10 MLAs in support of the bill: PC Sidney MacEwen, Liberal Robert Henderson, and all eight members of the P.E.I. Green caucus.

On the other side, the four remaining Liberals and 10 PCs voted against the bill — including three PCs who supported a similar bill the Greens brought forward in 2017.

"I initially said, you know, this is a very progressive bill," said Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers, one of the PCs who voted to lower the voting age in 2017.

Trivers said he spoke with his "very engaged" 14-year-old daughter and her friends about the bill, "and I thought, you know, in general there's probably a lot of support for this."

Minister of Social Development and Housing Brad Trivers said his constituents are against lowering the voting age, so he had to vote against the bill. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.)

But he said when he spoke to people in his district, "I was quite frankly surprised at the opposition to it, so I really had to rethink my position, representing my constituents."

Another PC who also voted for the change in 2017, Minister of Economic Growth Matthew MacKay, told a similar story, while Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure James Aylward changed his vote without speaking to the legislation.

"I have to say I'm disappointed but not all that surprised," said the bill's sponsor, Karla Bernard, after the bill was defeated.

"What I heard a lot [from other MLAs] was 'Well, my constituents don't want this,' and we've again missed the whole point," Bernard said, questioning why MLAs would deny extending voting to 16-year-olds because other constituents in their district — including adults — said they didn't want that.

"When we extended the rights to Indigenous people to vote, women to vote — one [MLA] suggested a plebiscite. You can't ask people who are not impacted by a piece of legislation how they feel about something."

Green MLA Karla Bernard questioned MLAs who voted against her bill to lower the voting age because their constituents — including adults, who already have the right to vote — said they were against it. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly)

During debate on the bill, Bernard said young people were losing power on the issues that matter most to them without "the priority consideration they are due." Bernard said allowing 16-year-olds to vote would serve "the best interests of the child," according to the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

The Greens also pointed to research suggesting 16-year-olds have the necessary brain capacity to vote and are politically engaged.

Some MLAs questioned why the bill would lower the voting age to 16 but still require candidates in elections to be 18.

Minister of Communities Jamie Fox questioned whether the Greens had properly considered "the effect that this will cause on municipal elections across the whole province."

"We're certainly not disputing that there would be an effect on municipal elections because, again, the intent of the bill is to have an effect. It's to expand who is eligible to vote in those elections," responded Nathan Hood, senior policy adviser with the Official Opposition.

Change will come eventually, says Bernard

Bernard pointed to discussions about lowering the voting age happening across the country, including discussions to allow that in federal elections, and said the change will come to P.E.I. eventually.

In the meantime, she suggested MLAs who voted against the bill might pay a political price.

"I think they're going to have a challenging time recouping from that, because they just left out a whole group of young people who are coming up and who will be voting soon, and who are going to be engaged," she said.


Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature.