If asked to name the most powerful voice of political and social change in the world these days, many people would likely not hesitate to say “Greta Thunberg.”
When Greta speaks, people stop what they are doing to listen. She is being joined by other strong, vocal young environmental activists, such as Autumn Peltier and Isra Hirsi. In describing Thunberg and others, the characteristic mentioned most often is their age. If they were 55-year-old seasoned politicians, their words would have far less impact.
Proposed changes to B.C.’s Election Act announced last week recognize that younger people do and should have a larger voice in how governments are chosen and run. The suggested changes fall short of giving the vote to 16 year olds, as the Green party has promoted. But one amendment, if passed, would allow 16 and 17 year olds to register to vote, so that they are already on the voters’ list by the time they are eligible to vote at age 18.
It is a step in the right direction towards acknowledging that governments’ actions affect people of all ages both now and in the future. Also intriguing is the suggestion made by Driftwood letter writer Ron MacKenzie last week that mothers or caregivers be given votes for each of their offspring.
At one time, it seemed unthinkable that Canadian women or citizens from non-Caucasian backgrounds should be granted the privilege of voting. As we mark Remembrance Day this week, it is interesting to realize that voting rights federally were slowly given to women, starting with those who served in the military in World War I, and then those who were British subjects (over the age of 21) who were the wife, widow, mother, sister or daughter of any persons, male or female, living or dead who was serving, or had served with the military forces. Women were first given the franchise in provincial elections in Manitoba in 1916 and that slowly expanded across the country. Quebec was the last to acquiesce in 1940.
There really is no difference between not letting 16-year-old citizens vote now and barring women or non-Caucasian citizens from voting in the last century. Today’s youth are remarkably aware and astute. When people of any age are given responsibility, they tend to rise to the occasion. Governments should not be afraid of a youth vote but should encourage it instead.