P.E.I. Opposition conducts its own consultations on lowering voting age

·2 min read

P.E.I.'s Official Opposition is conducting its own consultations with a number of groups as part of an effort to have the province become the first in Canada to lower its voting age to 16.

Charlottetown-Victoria Park MLA Karla Bernard introduced Bill 122, a private member's bill, to do that during the last sitting of the legislature.

But the legislation never came forward for a vote.

"Never before have we seen a period of time ... where we've seen decisions being made that are going to affect the future so much, this debt, recovery — all of these things, " said Bernard.

"Our youth are going to be left with this and our youth have great ideas about how we can get out of it."

'Keep the momentum'

Bernard's party is now going through a list of organizations that should be consulted before any such change is made. It includes the P.E.I. Federation of Municipalities, the Native Council of P.E.I., the Public Schools Branch, and the province's chief electoral officer, among others.

The list comes from a motion tabled by Finance Minister Darlene Compton and Education Minister Brad Trivers to send the bill to the province's standing committee on education and economic development to conduct consultations — including with the public — and report back during the next sitting of the legislature.

Rick Gibbs/CBC
Rick Gibbs/CBC

"They understood that this wasn't a question of going out to people and asking the questions 'Do you think 16- and 17-year-olds should have the right to vote?'" said Bernard.

"We wanted to keep the momentum going on and so we started this consultation process."

Not the first attempt

This isn't the first time a member of the Green Party has attempted to lower the voting age.

In 2017, Green Party Leader Peter Bevan-Baker presented a similar private member's bill arguing that 16-year-olds already take on several adult responsibilities.

"I think going into a ballot box and marking an X is a perfectly reasonable thing to add to that list," Bevan-Baker said in 2017.

But, the bill faced stiff opposition and was defeated.

"Systemic level changes take time. They're scary, there's hesitancy and I understand that," said Bernard.

"They're not easy changes, they're hard to get people on board."

Bernard said she hopes this new bill can be put forward to MLAs during the next sitting, which begins in February. And if it's not ready by then, she said the next aim is the sitting in the fall.

"We talk all the time about engaging youth ... and yet they're still not reflected in policy," said Bernard.

"The only way to get ... governments to listen to the needs of youth is to have them as voters."

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