I am pleased to support this bill, the Election Amendment Act, specifically the registration of voters at 16 years old.
S. Furstenau: I am pleased to rise today to speak in support of Bill 43, the Election Amendment Act. I think that this is a step that we’re seeing our province moving into the 21st century in a lot of ways, with electronic tabulators that have been operating at the local level for a long time. The province has been a bit slow to the uptake on that, and so it’s great to see the modernization of these rules that will help reduce barriers to voting. It’s interesting. My first election was actually at local level. Electronic tabulators were used for that election but not for the election at the MLA level.
I’m also happy to see the common sense changes introduced, such as extending campaign periods during snap elections, updating voters lists with the same data as the Ministry of Citizens’ Services uses, and also some language changes, which are welcome additions to this bill, that make elections more self-explanatory and common sense, in terms of the language.
But what I’d like to focus on is the aspect of this bill that moves to see registration of voters at 16 years old. We are, as a caucus, very supportive of this. Of course, it’s well known that we’re also very supportive of the next step, which would be to extend the vote to 16-year-olds in British Columbia.
I just want to speak a little bit about a student in my riding. He was a grade 8 student in 2018 at Quamichan. At 14 years old, Simon Minkow collected 400 signatures asking the government to lower the voting age in B.C. to 16. Simon did a great job of pointing out that other jurisdictions have already done this, including Brazil in 1988, Austria in 2010, Argentina in 2012 and, most recently, Scotland in 2015.
As the most recent example, Scotland is interesting for us to look at, because before the voting age was lowered to 16 in Scotland, only about a third of the citizens of Scotland approved of the notion of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the election. However, after the first election in which 16- and 17-year-olds were able to vote, the support in Scotland amongst the general population to maintain the vote for 16-year-olds rose to 60 percent. That was a doubling of the support in Scotland after one election where 16- and 17-year-olds were able to vote.
This reinforces what we know from research about youth voting, which is the younger you are when you vote in your first election, the more likely you are to be a participant in future elections. Young voters turn into lifetime voters. Having the opportunity to ensure that while students are still in high school, there is the opportunity not just for registration — which I applaud the government for moving to this step — but the opportunity for students to learn about what it means to vote in their first election.
I’m not a high school teacher, and most of my students couldn’t vote. Some of them would have turned 18 just in time for elections, so they did vote. But as a teacher, I took this responsibility very seriously. I would invite all of the candidates into my classroom so that my students could meet those candidates, could get information about the party platforms, could learn about what was happening in their ridings and what were the issues that were being debated in the election. Then they would do research, and they would come to their own decisions about how they would vote if they could — or in the case of some of the 18-year-olds, they would go out and vote on election day.
That engagement at that very early age means that we’ve just established a lifelong habit that when election time comes, you become an engaged citizen. You participate in your democracy, and a democracy only matters if there’s participation in it. Anything that we can do to increase engagement, to increase participation in democracy and particularly to engage youth in our democracy, I think, is absolutely essential in our role here as legislators.
I also want to point out…. If you look at the movements in the last few years, there are two in particular that I’d like to point to. One is after the Parkland shootings in the United States. The youth from that school mobilized literally millions of people in the United States to rise up and demand that there be better legislation on gun control in the United States. They were able to bring that issue to the forefront and to lay it out starkly and clearly for the important issue that it is, unlike any other group or any other demographic in the United States.
Then we have the youth climate strikers. Inspired just over a year ago by one teenage girl, this has turned into a movement of millions of youth around the world who are calling on all of the decision-makers, including us, around the world to make decisions that put them and their well-being at the centre of our decision-making. They have mobilized a movement on climate action unsurpassed by any other time in history. These have been youth under the age of 18, for the most part. They have inspired not only other youth; they’ve inspired older youth in their 20s and 30s. They’ve inspired all of us. They’ve inspired their grandparents.
This is an example of what engagement in the world around looks like in these incredible youth. So the notion that it would be too risky to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote…. I think that myth has been laid bare very clearly in the last few years. All we have to do is recognize the extraordinary achievements of 16- and 17-year-olds around the world in moving political issues to the forefront of an agenda that adults in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s had not managed to put at the forefront of the agenda where they belonged.
I would say that young people like Simon Minkow are the rule, not the exception. If we spend time listening and recognizing the incredible value and perspective that young people have, we would recognize that extending the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds is a logical step for us to take. I hope that this is, indeed, a first step that we’re going to see from the government and that it will culminate in the next and proper step, which is to extend the vote to 16- and 17-year-olds.
I’m delighted at the changes that we’re seeing. Our caucus is in support of this bill, and I look forward to the next amendment act on the elections.