In a democracy, voting is a fundamental right of the citizenry – a right upon which our freedom and future depend.
Yet statistics show that fewer Canadians than ever are voting and that about four in ten will choose to stay home for the next federal election.
Provincial contests are no better and, at a municipal level, fewer than one in five eligible voters in Sooke bothered to venture out on Saturday to cast a ballot to fill the district’s vacant council seat.
Men and women have died fighting for the right to vote, but these days their sacrifice appears to have been forgotten.
That’s why our discussions with high school students about their priorities in the next federal election struck a chord.
Those students spoke intelligently about issues like climate change, social inequality, the rise of nationalism, homelessness and a host of other issues. They knew the facts surrounding those issues and had formed opinions on the best course of action to address the challenges.
These young people had taken the time to learn those facts and were even participating in actions to do their part to make the world a better place.
Then they pointed out that their knowledge and enthusiasm didn’t matter. They would not be allowed to vote and had no say in the who would lead them into the future.
The students suggested that Canada should follow the lead of other nations around the world and lower the voting age to 16.
Anticipating arguments to the contrary, one of the students pointed out that the arguments against allowing young people to vote are eerily similar to those used to keep women and people of color from voting in the 19th and 20th centuries.
At that time, the prevailing wisdom was that these people couldn’t possibly understand the issues and that granting them the vote was contrary to the natural order of things. It was, in fact, unfair to expect them to vote.
It was nonsense then and is equally foolish today.
It was Henry David Thoreau who pointed out that it is young who people gather materials to build a bridge to the moon, whereas the middle-aged man has the same materials and concludes to build a woodshed.
It’s time to capture the imagination and optimism of youth and give it a voice by lowering the voting age.