Vancouver students turning out for mock election want voting age lowered

They may be too young to vote in the 2019 federal election, but students at Kitsilano Secondary School in Vancouver were among thousands of Canadian kids lining up to cast ballots in mock elections at their schools this week.

Across the country's 338 ridings, elementary and secondary students at more than 9,500 schools will have the opportunity to vote for the official candidates in their riding.

Nearly 700 schools in the Lower Mainland are participating in the 2019 Student Vote organized by CIVIX, a non-partisan group focused on engaging youth in democracy.

Maggie MacPherson/CBC

The group estimates this year's election will be the largest student parallel election held in Canada with more than one million elementary and secondary students expected to vote.

Students at Kitsilano Secondary say politicians should listen up if they expect to win their support when they turn 18.

"I think it's really important that politicians begin to see that a lot of the newer generations are a lot more liberal, almost, I want to say," said 16-year-old Aida Pina who voted on Wednesday.

"Of course, that's not the case for everyone, but I think it's important that politicians see where it's going so they can start to adjust themselves as well."

Fighting apathy by lowering voting age

For the first time, Canadians 18 to 38 years old have surpassed baby boomers as the country's largest voting block. Youth like Pina are just a couple years away from being able to add their voices to that number. 

However, young people have been criticized for lower election turnout rates than older generations. Some believe lowering the voting age is a solution.

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Just last year, Canada's elections chief said it is an idea "worth considering" by Parliament because Canadians who vote early in life are more likely to continue voting later on. 

Both the NDP and the Greens are campaigning on lowering the voting age to 16. The Liberals have said they won't touch it.

And momentum is building at other levels of government.

Last month, the Union of B.C. Municipalities passed a resolution calling on the province to pass legislation to change the minimum voting age to 16 in local elections.

"We learn so much about the voting system in school to the point that half of us are probably more educated, I think, than some people," said Pina. "You have so much to say about your country, so it seems only fair that we should have input."

Climate change remains number one issue

All the students CBC News spoke to identified climate change as the top issue when deciding who to vote for.

"I wanted to vote for somebody who wanted to make a change," said Ben Thompson. "And also affordable housing, especially in the city we live in."

Maggie MacPherson/CBC

For 15-year-old Owen McConnell, that meant looking for a party that would take action on climate change while also trying to improve the economy.

He believes lowering the minimum age would be a positive step, but that it isn't enough to get youth to the polls.

"Lowering the voting age would certainly help with the voting turnout but I know that some high schoolers just wouldn't vote anyway," said McConnell. The Grade 10 student thinks the best way to encourage youth participation is through ad campaigns in schools and across media platforms.

Fellow Grade 10 student Nathan Schouls says like any age demographic, there are young people who are interested in politics, and those who can't be bothered.

"If the voting age does get younger, as time goes on, people are going to start taking it for granted," said Schouls. 

Maggie MacPherson/CBC