A Manitoba senator believes her bill to lower the voting age to 16 is what Canadian democracy needs and says lawmakers like her will keep trying until it happens.
Either Bill S-201, introduced by non-affiliated Sen. Marilou McPhedran of Manitoba, and Bill C-210, introduced by NDP Taylor Bachrach of Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC would lower Canada’s voting age to 16. The last time such legislation passed was 1970 as the Pierre Trudeau Liberals dropped the minimum age from 21 to 18.
McPhedran, a former lawyer and professor, was appointed by Justin Trudeau to the Senate in 2016. Soon after her appointment, meetings with young Canadians convinced her they should get to vote.
“For Francophone youth in Canada, lowering the federal voting age to 16 has been a priority for policy and legal priority change for them for well over a decade. And so they spoke very convincingly about the need for this didn’t take me very long to decide that it was an initiative that I really wanted to get behind,” McPhedran said in an interview with Western Standard.
McPhedran said the truckers’ convoy to Ottawa provided a more recent reminder that Canadian democracy needed help.
“Some would call it an insurrection, some would call it treason, some would call it an expression of freedom. There’s a wide range among Canadian parliamentarians about just exactly what happened but we all have to pay attention to the fact that there are huge concerns from multiple points of view about our democracy in Canada. And that, to me, is actually a positive point in favor of increasing the number of people in this country who are able to vote.”
Former Green Party leader Elizabeth May has twice introduced private member’s bills to lower the voting age. In the press release announcing her attempt one year ago, she said, “It flies in the face of fairness that 16 and 17-year olds are old enough to work — and pay taxes — while not being allowed to vote for the government those taxes are funding.”
Former NDP MP Bev Desjarlais made the first attempt in 2001, followed by Liberal Mark Holland in 2004. Last Parliament, Vancouver NDP MP Don Davies introduced a bill to lower the voting age, his fourth attempt since 2010. McPhedran, who tried twice for such bills in the last parliament, said lawmakers like her will keep at it until they succeed.
“It was Elizabeth May who first said to me, ‘We can’t have too many of these bills… The more we’re all working on this, the better,'” McPhedran said.
McPhedran’s father, John McPhedran, ran for the Manitoba Legislature as a Progressive Conservative in 1962 and 1966. The Senator, born in 1951, says she has engaged in discussions with politicians across the political spectrum and around the world to help advance the cause.
“Let’s acknowledge that young people now are global citizens, and let’s think in terms of not only our Canadian democracy, but also let’s think of the larger international context… Pretty much all of the research, and also the relationships that we’ve been building around this change in law, are international,” McPhedran said.
“The stereotype the brains of young people aged 16 to 18 just have not developed enough to give them this responsibility of voting is not supported by the research.”
University of Prince Edward Island political science professor Don Desserud said his province allowed 16-year-olds to vote in a recent plebiscite, but participation was low. He says many arguments against giving them the vote, such as political ignorance, could easily apply to those who are older. Nor does he accept the argument that teens will just vote the way their parents say to.
“I find that absolutely hilarious because when I was 16, the absolute last thing I would do was what my parents told me to do,” Desserud said.
Dusserud says he gets “interesting” answers when he asks his students on exams whether the voting age should drop to 16.
“The 18-year-olds, for the most part, they don’t like the idea of 16-year-olds voting. And I think it’s because they are now allowed to vote, they had to wait. And they don’t like suddenly that privilege that they’re proud of now is suddenly being given away to younger kids,” Dusserud said.
Vote16.ca advocates for the change and says 16-year-olds are up for the responsibility.
“From climate change to sexual consent to gender equality, today’s young teens are expressing themselves more than any previous generation,” says the organization’s “learn more” page.
Duane Bratt, political science professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says progressive parties are pushing the idea. However, he believes the status quo should prevail unless someone can prove why 16- and 17-year-olds should vote.
“Yes, they’re kind of in a midway point of being citizens. There’s different laws, different age requirements based on driving, based on being able to buy alcohol or cannabis, etc … but the case to drop it to 16 has to be proven, it has to be definitive,” Bratt says.
Lee Harding is a Western Standard contributor from Saskatchewan.