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We Must Find Ways to Involve Youth in the Political Process

The clicking over of a new year always brings a sense of expectancy and hope. I guess that is what draws the crowds to the midnight festivities and all the singing and kissing that goes on.

Each of us has been inundated with the details of the past year accompanied by a lot of advice about how to make the coming year an even better experience.

In British Columbia we have a lot of activity on the political front coming our way. New leaders, new candidates and an election all seem to be looming for 2011. Folded into the ideas being bandied about is a suggestion that we lower the voting age to 16.

This idea is not new. Nations have been talking about it since the Nineties. Some have even made it happen.

Austria was the first country in Europe to lower the national voting age to 16 and in Germany and Switzerland 16-year-olds can vote in local elections. Several other countries in Europe, including Great Britain, are debating the pros and cons of lowering the voting age to 16. In 2005, the Canadian government looked at the issue seriously when a private members bill was introduced with some major support across all parties. However no change has been made to date.

What is driving this call for giving voting rights to this younger demographic? Some experts are convinced that it could make a difference to the future of democracy. For one thing, the youth contingent is declining and there is a concern that the youth voice will not be represented in future considerations.

Actually, the future is not that far off. Most studies based on future census identify 2050 as a pivotal year. By that time, there will be 25% fewer 15-24-year-olds globally. It is projected that youth issues will not be a priority with a senior population and this could negatively impact democracy. This predicted decline is particularly significant considering that an aging population will need to rely on the youth for economic growth, social security systems and social cohesion.

Given all the conversation about the importance of the young voter, we have to identify that currently most youth do not appear to take part in the process even with the right to vote.

Some analysts cite low political knowledge, lack of interest, lack of contact with political figures and apathy toward getting registered to vote as reasons for the low numbers. Add to this a declining sense that voting is a civic duty. Canada currently records a 60% voter turnout and BC has a dismal 22% voter representation at the polls and youth are not largely represented.

I have mixed feelings about 16-year-old voters but, if that is the direction of the future, we need to start educating our youth about the process. Talk to your children about the governance in the local community, the province, the nation and beyond. As usual, education is the key to change.