Raise the voting age to 30
Younger Canadians lack the experience to make effective political choices

Peter Hadekel's Saturday column, in which he rightly called the Action Democratique's proposal to reduce the voting age in Quebec to 16, "dumb," deserves comment. Although Hadekel has interesting ideas, he does not extend them far enough.

Canada's voting requirements are far too lax as they stand. Far from reducing the voting age, we would get immeasurably better public policies if we increased the voting age much higher, say to around 30 years old.

This is of course not a new idea. Winston Churchill, one of the 20th century's foremost proponents of democracy, was its originator.

According to biographer Clive Ponting, Churchill made this innovative suggestion in cabinet debates during the late 1920s over the issue of extending the vote to British women between the ages of 21 and 30, a move he firmly opposed.

To avoid extending the vote to all women, Churchill proposed that as a compromise the voting age for both men and women be raised to either 25 or 30, an idea that has considerably merit.

In his column Hadekel rightly points out that people learn a lot between the ages of 16 and 18. But the process doesn't stop there. They learn even more between the ages of 18 and 30, an age at which they are far better prepared to make intelligent political choices.

In today's society few people read, and most get their news from television. That means it takes much longer to form intelligent opinions on the key issues affecting our society.

No 17-year old can be expected to know whether higher or lower interest rates are good for the economy, whether CEOs who lied to us about profits are telling the truth about genetically modified foods, or which provisions of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade should be extended or abolished.

To get the answer to these questions you have to watch television news regularly for at least 20 years. This is unrealistic to ask of anyone who is not at least between the ages of 25 and 30.

The big difficulty in getting voting age raised 30 is that the vote is like a cancer. Once people have a say in how they are governed, its hard to get them to give it up.

That's why at minimum, we should reject the Action Démocratique proposal and forbid extending voting rights to 16 and 17 year olds. In fact there are a several additional reasons one could modestly add to Hadekel's argumentation.

Hadedel is if anything too generous to teenagers. As anyone who has talked to a 16 or 17 year old recently, few have opinions about such issues as Quebec independence, abortion or the death penalty.

For example just because teenage girls have reached puberty, it does not necessarily follow they should be allowed to participate in decisions governing their sexuality such as whether free condoms should be available in schools. Parents can be rightly expected to represent their interests when they cast their votes.

Speaking personally, I know my kids and I agree about virtually everything. For proof that 16 and 17 year olds tend to vote like their parents, one had to look no further than Cuba, where the voting age is also 16. Fidel Castro routinely gets 99 per cent approval, a sure sign that the young and old vote alike.

In addition, if 16 and 17 years olds ever did start thinking differently, the problem could spread.

The next thing you know their 14 and 15 year old brothers and sisters would also want a say in such issues as how much national debt Generation Y will have to pay back, how many immigrants we allow to compete with them for the few jobs available, and how many species we choose to exterminate.

Those who slavishly cling to notions of democracy of the people by the people and for the people, should be recognized as the zealots they are. Anyone with a bit of common sense - like Churchill had -- realizes that democracy can't literally include all of the people.


Diekmeyer can be contacted at: peter@peterdiekmeyer.com


Home | Gazette articles | Eye on Ottawa | Book reviews

  © 2002 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.