Canadian 16 and 17-year-olds should have voices heard at voting booths

There’s a group of people in our country who are legally entitled to work, to drive their own cars and to choose with whom they have sex. This same group also pays millions of dollars in taxes to the federal government every year. I’m speaking, of course, about our fellow citizens aged 16 and 17 who are denied participation in the most basic of democratic rights, the right to vote.

In a political era where less than two-thirds of our society find it convenient to cast a ballot (61.1 per cent in the 41st federal election) it doesn’t contribute to the health or vitality of our democracy to prevent youth from voting. We need to bring this very aware group of citizens into the electorate not only because we owe it to them as bona fide members of society, but because they will inject our political system with thoughtful ideas and fresh perspective.

To be sure, some people are opposed. People will always make ill-considered ageist jokes about the maturity of teenagers. But the simple fact is that 16 and 17-year-old youth understand the system and are ready and willing to participate. Further still, maturity and age are not the same concept. There are plenty of teenagers better equipped mentally to vote than entire sections of “grown-up” society.

Taxation without representation is self-evidently the most straightforward reason to afford 16-year-old persons the right to vote. The majority of Canadian youth work in some capacity before they graduate high school, and thus amounts for the CPP (Canadian Pension Plan) and EI (Employment Insurance) are deducted from their paycheques. These same youth also spend money and in turn pay GST amounting to millions in federal revenue. What’s bizarre is that these youth have no say in how much money is taken nor how it’s used. They are being deprived of the most elementary form of democratic expression.

In Ottawa, our MPs represent various groups from the constituencies that elected them. The questions unsurprisingly follows, who represents youth? If 16 and 17-year-olds were to be enfranchised, then politicians would be forced to take them seriously and represent their interests as voters. And youth have a unique vantage point both because of the stage they are at in their lives, but also because of their position in society. While acknowledging this may be cliché, youth really are the future.

If a 16-year-old is old enough to play by the rules of the system then he or she has the right to help decide how that system should operate. The most fundamental way of doing this is through the pure democratic action of voting. Today’s teenagers are not misguided — there’s no such thing as a wrong vote. So let’s do the same as Austria, Argentina, Ecuador and Brazil, and bury the ageist tradition that excludes so many eager young Canadians from the democratic process.