NDP revive pitch to lower the voting age in Canada

The New Democrats are hopeful a revived pitch to lower the legal voting age in Canada to 16 will generate more support in the House of Commons this time around given new and emerging threats to global democracy.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said while he is aware of previous bills’ failures, he believes this private member’s bill, sponsored by NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, is unique.

“I think there is a feeling across the world that democracy is in threat, and we're seeing the rise in some cases of fascism, the rise of, or an erosion of democracy and some examples of that. In light of that, I think there is a stronger conviction around how do we support democracy, how do we make sure our democratic systems function well and have good participation and remain vibrant,” Singh said Tuesday.

The NDP leader pointed to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine as one example.

Bachrach initially pitched Bill C-210 in Dec. 2021. It's the first bill since 2005, when Liberal MP Mark Holland proposed a similar policy, to make it to debate stage.

“In conversation with MPs from other parties over the past number of weeks, I've been really encouraged by the interest and support. Of course, we'll see what happens at second reading, but this is an idea I think that transcends parties,” said Bachrach of the bill, which will be debated Wednesday in the House of Commons.

The Conservative Party allows those who are 14 and older to vote in its leadership races.

Beyond strengthening Canada’s democracy, Bachrach said the move highlights a host of ballot issues that have a major bearing on the future of young people.

“Whether we’re talking about housing, affordability, the sustainability of our health-care system, or most importantly, the climate crisis, which is worsening every year, these are issues that young people care about and issues that affect young people in really profound ways and they deserve to have a voice in the conversation about those issues,” he said.

The NDP members were joined by Jan Eichhorn, an associate professor at the University of Edinburgh, who studies political engagement, namely among young people.

Eichhorn said international research shows 16 and 17-year-olds are more likely to participate in elections than 18 to 24-year-olds.

“For them, the first vote is less likely to be an isolated experience. They're more likely to still live at home, they're more likely to be in some form of education or vocational training, in which they talk to others, in which they might be experiencing discussions about voting jointly,” he said.

“And really importantly, when young people do this, they also have an impact on the rest of society.”

If passed, Bill C-210 would amend the wording of the Canada Elections Act to define a qualified elector as any Canadian citizen 16 years of age or older on polling day.

A “future elector” would then be considered any person older than 14 and younger than 16.