What does Bill C-261 do?
Bill C-261 amends the Canada Elections Act to change the age for voting in federal elections to 16 from 18. It retains the age to become a federal candidate at 18.
Is this the first time a bill of this nature has been put forward in Parliament?
There have been two previous bills, C-423 introduced by Nelson Riis (NDP) in the 36th Parliament, and C-213, the reintroduction by Bev Desjarlais (NDP) of the Riis bill in the first session of the 37th Parliament. These bills were similar to C-261, but did not differentiate between voter age and candidate age. Neither bill came to vote. In the case of C-213, it went to second reading debate, but had been deemed non-votable under the old system for private member’s business.
What’s new about C-261?
Aside from the differentiation between voter and candidate age, the other main difference is that under the new rules for private member’s business, this bill will be put to a vote in the House, and it should come up early in 2005. This means there’s a much better likelihood it could become law than there was for previous bills. The fact that a team of MPs from all federal parties is behind this bill shows it has broad support.
How long has the voting age been 18? Has suffrage been universal for Canadians of voting age?
The voting age was 21 until changes to the Elections Act were introduced in 1970. Among these changes, Canadians aged at least 18 on or before election day became eligible to vote. The first election in which those aged under 21 could vote was in 1972. In the past, other groups were denied voting rights. Women acquired the vote in 1918, the Inuit in 1950, and First Nations people living on reserves in 1960. Inmates were granted the vote in 2002 as the result of a Supreme Court ruling.
Will C-261 affect other jurisdictions such as provinces and municipalities?
The Canada Elections Act only governs federal elections. Provinces and territories have their own laws governing elections at provincial and municipal levels. Our hope is, however, that these jurisdictions will follow the federal example if this initiative is successful.
What is the situation internationally?
Although 18 is the voting age in many international jurisdictions, the trend has been to lower the voting age and enlarge the franchise rather than the reverse. There are campaigns in a number of countries to lower the voting age to 16. Brazil has a voluntary voting age of 16 and voting is mandatory for those 18 to 70. Some German local elections have an age of 16. Other countries, such as Croatia, allow voting at 16 and 17 by those employed full time. The lowest voting age is 15 in Iran for presidential elections.
Why are you pursuing this initiative?
Voter participation has been steadily declining. Young people participate at a much lower rate than their elders. Voting habits established early tend to stick with a citizen throughout life. This means that as the current population ages, voter participation will continue to drop unless something is done to reverse this trend. By extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds, we reach them when they are still in school and taking civics classes. Voting habits established early will usually stay with them for life.
Young people in part are disillusioned with the political system because they feel that politicians ignore youth. About 2.6 million Canadians, 12 per cent of the population, are aged 18 – 24. By enlarging the youth cohort of voters, the interests of youth will receive greater attention. This should help to change the “cycle of neglect” to a “cycle of participation.”