At the recent Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities convention, the City of Victoria brought forward a motion calling on the Provincial government to lower the voting age to 16 for local government elections. (See full text of motion below). The motion passed with a strong majority of delegates in support.
I’ll share what I said at the microphone urging delegates to vote yes. I’ll also share the story of one of the youth behind the #Vote16BC Campaign in her own words. Her story is just one reason why I support their cause.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who has inspired youth around the world, is a good person to start with. Greta is the ideal voter and politically engaged citizen. She understands the importance of using resources prudently and planning for the long term. She’s thoughtful and well-spoken. She has the courage to stand up for her convictions. And she’s able to mobilize people to action.
There are 16 and 17 year olds in all of our communities in British Columbia just like Greta. They are wise, thoughtful, and forward-thinking. Many of them have recently been moved to action, organizing, demonstrating and urging us adults to clean up our act on climate change. We have a responsibility to let them shape their own future by doing more than protesting in front of the legislature.
Influencing positive adult behaviour begins in youth. When blue boxes were first introduced, one of the key areas of focus for blue-box education was the classroom. Get kids recycling at a young age, the thinking went, and build a life-long habit of recycling. So too with transit. The City of Victoria will be providing free transit to youth 18 and under in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but equally importantly, to nurture life-long transit use.
The same argument can be made for voting. Imagine if each fall in the year of a municipal election, grade 11 and 12 students reviewed and discussed the issues and wrote papers on a muncipal election topic. What if they organized all candidates debates – as happened at Vic High in 2014. And then imagine if on the Saturday of the election, they gathered as a class and went to cast their ballots. Maybe they’d bring their parents with them!
This civic education is good for democracy. And with voter turnout in local elections at an all-time low and with democracy on shaky ground around the world, it could use a boost right now. Enabling willing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections is one small step in strengthening democracy and building a life-long practice of civic participation.
I support the Vote 16 BC Campaign for these reasons. But I also support it because of Nahira’s story. And the stories of countless other 16 and 17 year olds from across British Columbia who are organizing the #Vote16BC Campaign. They are counting on elected officials to vote Yes at the Union of BC Municipalities conference in Vancouver this September. And they expect that if a yes vote happens, the Provincial government will act swiftly and give them the right to vote.
There are many ways we can convince the government that young people should have a say in our society. One way is through storytelling. It’s not only powerful, but storytelling also connects us in ways that facts cannot. I would like to share my story with you and why I want to lower the voting age.
My name is Nahira Gerster-Sim and I was adopted from China. Because of the one child policy, my biological parents felt they were not able to raise me. My adoptive parents brought me to Canada when I was two years old.
As a young child, I was always puzzled by the notion that a government would force a rule upon a society that would inevitably leave thousands of children stranded, starving and separated from their families. Why were they allowed to make that kind of decision for us, when it really only affected us negatively?
As I continued to make my way through elementary and now high school, I’ve been continually shocked at the number of times adults have made decisions about my future and wellbeing without consultation. And often they aren’t even in my best interest. Many of my friends feel the same way.
For example, the Vancouver School Board makes all the decisions about our schooling. What schools to close, how to evaluate students, what to teach. Yet, they never ask us what kind of an education system we think would be most beneficial to us. There is only one student rep on the school board, and she doesn’t have a vote.
What’s more, the government is burning money and resources on pipelines and big corporations that are going to destroy our planet, instead of spending its money looking at renewable energy plans and sustainable actions. Ultimately, they don’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions on the earth – we do.
In the 21st century, teenagers are taking the world by storm. We are fighting for justice and equality on various issues including gun control, sustainability, racism, and so much more. But even so, adults and other authorities still see us as pushovers – unintelligent, just pawns in whatever society they want to create.
But I don’t see it that way and I hope you don’t either. I see young people as a voice for change, the future of a better world. At sixteen, we are able to drive, join the army and get married. Doesn’t that mean that we are also well enough informed and educated about local and national issues?
I want to lower the voting age so that I can be a part of evolving our system, hopefully shifting our society to a more progressive viewpoint. I don’t want a political system where children can’t get even get their basic needs met because the government didn’t bother to think about anyone under the age of 30. Canada should value the opinion of its youth.
This is not a democracy if it’s not inclusive in the most generous sense.
I want to inspire youth so we have a voice powerful enough to make a difference. At 16 years old, I want to be part of what we call democracy. Hopefully, all of us together, we can change the political system.