When I vote in advance polls this weekend I will not be asked to dip a finger in purple ink. Armed guards will not be inside or outside the polling station. My vote will not be influenced by bribes or intimidation. Sad then, isn’t it, that so many Canadians, having seen the struggles for democracy in the Middle East and North Africa this winter, will not exercise their democratic right between now and May 2nd and yet will feel free to complain about the outcome!
If barely sixty percent of Canadians old enough to vote will do so, all the more reason – among others – to lower the voting age to sixteen.
As difficult as it is for this 51-year old to imagine that 16-year olds were only born around 1995, the fact is that they are in school, and have hopefully had at least some compulsory lessons in Canadian history and social studies. What a great environment of debate and discussion to spark an interest in How Canadians Govern Themselves .
Only as an adult, hearing of the distance so many people feel from our democratic institutions, could I truly appreciate growing up as close as I did to Ottawa (and spending summers even closer).
Going to high school near the site of the War of 1812 Battle of the Châteauguay, which thwarted an over-land invasion by Americans bent on conquering Montréal, I was gifted to have a couple of very enthusiastic history teachers who placed a lot of emphasis on local events. As this also coincided with the Parti Québecois’ historic first election to government in 1976 there was no shortage of material – and of course there was lots of study of the October Crisis of 1970 a few years before.
Each year of high school included a day-trip to Ottawa where we would tour Parliament, at least one museum, and the Experimental Farm. Setting off from Ormstown, we’d travel through my home-town of Valleyfield (or its formal name, Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, which honoured French-Canadian lieutenant-colonel Charles-Michel d’Irumberry de Salaberry, hero of the aforementioned La Bataille de la Châteauguay), up past the sprawling horse farms of St-Lazare and the Ottawa River-side town of Hudson (home of NDP leader Jack Layton) to Highways 40 and the 417 which sped us to our destination.
I know that when it came to history and politics I was definitely a nerd but I look back on these opportunities with gratitude.
In the grand old court house across the street from my grandmother’s, at the time, there sat a judge for many years (John Matheson) who, as a local Member of Parliament during the Lester B. Pearson government, handled the political sausage-making which led to Parliament adapting our much-loved Maple Leaf flag. Matheson, so my grandmother boasted, is a distant relative. My great-grandmother was a sister of Judge Matheson’s grandmother. (The Scottish side of my family make it our life’s work to trace our bloodlines back centuries to the Highlands – roots which I always blame, without evidence admittedly, for my fair, irritation-prone skin.)
All of which is to bring me back to the fact that it was in my youth, even before learning to drive, that I also was most intensely learning about politics and how government works. I’m sure the same is true today so, with so much pathetic apathy among adults, let’s thrown open voting to young people.
Old enough to drive? Old enough to vote!