Ontario leaders debate on reducing voting age to 16

Ontario party leaders (from left) Green Party leader Mike Schreiner, NDP leader Andrea Horwath, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Progressive Conservative interim leader Vic Fedeli met at Ryerson University to discuss youth involvement in politics on March 1.

Norma Zminkowska
News reporter

The four Ontario political party leaders entertained the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 to help overcome the lack of youth engagement in politics in a recent leaders’ summit.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Progressive Conservative interim leader Vic Fedeli, NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Green Party leader Mark Schreiner attended the March 1 forum at Ryerson University forum, moderated by Toronto Star political columnist Martin Regg Cohn.

One solution to counter youth lethargy to politics, some of the leaders hint, is to lower the voting age from 18.

Horwath said her party lets 14-year-olds vote on policy issues and for leaders.

Wynne said young students can also vote in the Liberal party. She said it’s important to register them before they graduate high school “so that kids get an understanding.”

Schreiner said the overall voting age should be lowered to 16.

“Once you establish that voting habit, that becomes a life-long voting habit, and I think 16 is a great age to do that,” he said.

Fedeli didn’t specifically mention high school students, but did say youth voting is important.

Horwath said the problem isn’t that youth don’t care about politics, but they aren’t engaged — pointing a finger instead at governing bodies.

“I believe that young people are very tuned into what’s going on around the world,” she said. “The key is to make sure we’re not just talking at them but that we’re listening to them.”

“I think everybody’s talked to a young person who said they’re not voting, but I think if we’re honest about why, it’s because we’re not reflecting their hopes and dreams,” Horwath said.

“I understand, because I have a son who’s 25 years old, and he doesn’t have a full-time job, and he’s living in my basement,” she said.

Wynne agreed, bringing up the protests around gun control as an example.

“For years we heard older people say kids aren’t engaged, they’re not interested in issues of the day,” she said. “We look at what’s happening in the States with the young kids who are rising up around gun control, and that’s a statement of how engaged kids are.

“The mistake we make, I think, is we lay out the range of issues we think people should be interested in without going to people and listening to what they are saying,” Wynne said.

Fedeli, who will be replaced when the PC caucus elects its permanent leader March 10, said young people don’t see themselves represented by legislature. The only exception, he said, is Sam Oosterhoff, who is Niagara West-Glanbrook MPP and the youngest member in the legislature at 20.

The second youngest, at age 40, is Liberal MPP Yvan Baker of Etobicoke Centre.

The problem of youth involvement extends to students’ confusion of where they can cast their ballot, Schreiner said. He said he spends time with Guelph university students, who he claimed they don’t know whether they can vote where their parents live or where they attend school.

Taylor Howarth, who is a political strategist of the Green party, said she would rather see politicians talk about things that matter than fighting with each other.

“The reasons young people don’t vote is because we’re not reflected in the legislature, as was mentioned. It’s sort of alienating,” said Howarth, who is working on her master’s degree in social work at Carleton University.

“We don’t want to see people fighting all the time and not addressing the issues that matter,” she said in a panel after the leaders spoke.

“We’re having to change our behaviours as engagers and politicians because it’s time to build the trust and to build the committees that are outside the traditional norms that we see, the traditional faces that we see in politics,” Howarth said.

For IGNITE president hopeful Monica Khosla, the problem is people think they can’t make an impact.

“I feel like the reason that youth are not engaged enough in politics is because not too many people are interested in putting in a lot of effort toward things these days, and with politics there could be a big chance that you could lose,” Khosla said.

“So many people don’t even bother trying,” she said.

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