For Ontario residents, election season is drawing near. For many of us, this will be our first opportunity to cast our ballots. The debate over whether or not to change the minimum voting age from 18 to 16 has been heating up. Toronto MPP Arthur Potts has recently presented a bill in the Ontario Legislature, arguing strongly in favour of lowering the minimum age by two years. Canada, and specifically Ontario, would not be the first jurisdiction in the world to follow this route. Many European, South American and Middle Eastern countries have also made similar adaptations. Nonetheless, it is important to consider the reasons for and against implementing a policy change of this magnitude in a democratic nation such as our own.
Arguments in Favour:
For various reasons, lowering the voting age to 16 would make Canadian and/or Ontarian society more democratic. First of all, we would be extending power to thousands of citizens. In addition, young people bring with them great diversity of thought and belief. We live in an age in which widespread education is more accessible than ever. Coupled with the reality of the digital world making relevant news content instantly available, young adults should be a well informed demographic. Contrary to popular belief, youth today are extremely passionate about issues of great importance. Canadian young people express a deep desire to actively be involved in selecting their leaders.
One must also consider how public policy, particularly that which relates to labour and working conditions, is directly affecting the lives of Canada’s youth. In the 2018 Ontario campaign, for example, the fifteen dollar minimum wage debate is on the table. The benefits and consequences of how the next Ontario government decides to move forward regarding minimum wage legislation impacts the lives of countless young workers who are 16 and 17 years old. How can a democratic state justify excluding a mass proportion of the population from having say into this item of critical importance? On top of this relevant evidence, there is also the unavoidable fact that 16 year olds have the right to drive a car and leave home while 17 year olds are often also enrolled in post-secondary institutions.
There are inevitably some 16 and 17 year olds who do not demonstrate an interest in politics and lack ambition as well as passion. (Although, there are undoubtedly many individuals who are much older who seem to fit in the same category). These are the individuals who potentially could abuse their rights and become uninformed voters who exercise power without responsibility. There is also the argument that many teens still live with a parent/guardian, at least until they finish high school. These youth may develop a propensity to become quite influenced by their elders and reproduce the values of their family members rather than come to conclusions as independent, discerning adults.
The Verdict: Should we or shouldn’t we?
There are compelling reasons for and against such an alteration to the voting system. A society should not take withholding a fundamental freedom from the people lightly. If we desire to make Canada and Ontario more democratic, we need a very strong reason to oppose extending voting powers to a greater number of citizens. With that being said, it is equally important to understand the serious responsibility that comes with the right to vote. A person’s vote does not only impact their life but also the collective wellbeing of the society at large. Thus, we must also protect the voting system in order to preserve democracy for future generations.
In summation, the big question which must be answered is whether the amount of maturing which takes place between the sixteenth and eighteenth birthdays of the general population is great enough to justify the delay in delegating them their due voting rights. If relevant, persuasive evidence is limited, it is becoming increasingly difficult to defend not supporting a minimum voting age of 16. In addition, it appears as though the burden of proof is gradually being placed on those who are against a lower voting age rather than those who support a modification of this nature.
-Nick Redekop, Contributor