We shouldn’t be surprised about the number of people turning away from the ballot box.

Federal, provincial, local — we have an endemic low-voter turnout that leaves a hole in our democracy. Institutional disengagement is also endemic. When Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, the former member of Parliament for Nunavut, gave her farewell speech, she said this:

“Recently, I asked a minister what he would do in my shoes. If his riding had the highest rates of suicide with the most homes in need of repair, if women and girls were going missing in his community and children were being taken into the foster care system without regard for their well-being, how would he feel?… He said he would never even try to place himself in my shoes.”

Qaqqaq had just turned 26 when she was elected.

Young people are not apathetic. Youth like me are at the forefront of many of this country’s current struggles. It is youth who are navigating the educational environment that will shape our futures during a pandemic, who are calling for climate and racial justice, who are figuring out what work will look like 10 years from now. Youth like me are the ones trying to pull meaning out of all this noise.

As the inheritors of the future, we have an unshakeable power. At the same time, we are undermined by institutions that fail to take us seriously now.

We know that when they’re given the chance, 16- to 17-year-olds will consistently vote more than older first-time voters. At 18, major life transitions occur and learning about the local political candidates is hardly a priority. Sixteen is a much better time to start voting because of the familiar, supportive environment one has at that age.

Over time, we’ll see increasing numbers of young people turning out. With a boost in the number of young voters and more people forming voting habits into the long term, this move will put us on a path to democratic revitalization.

As Canada’s population ages and voter turnout rates continue to decline, the push to extend voting rights becomes increasingly prescient, writes Aleksi Toiviainen @Vote16Canada. #Vote16 #cdnpoli

Are the 16- and 17-year-olds ready for this responsibility?

The cognitive science says they are, as does the research on their civic knowledge, all backed up by the mounting international precedent in more than 20 countries. But these assurances are not why you lower the voting age. You do it because having a voice matters a great deal.

Maclean’s recently ran the headline, “Young, working Canadians face a dilemma: eat, or pay the bills?” One in five Canadian youth lives in poverty. One in three Black youth, one in two status First Nations youth. We’ve lived through a recession. There are some fears we’re heading for a second. We’re presently living through six or so other crises.

“The first time I participated in a climate strike, I felt exhilarated. Three years later, I’m caught halfway between hope and anger,” said Adah Crandall, a sophomore who organized the recent Portland Youth Climate Strike.

Across Canada, 85 cities took part in the global climate strike of September 2019. Vancouver, Inuvik, Montreal, Fenelon Falls — it was a strike of hundreds of thousands that surpassed common urban-rural divides. I was in the ocean of 15,000 people protesting in Toronto at the Ontario legislature. Four years later, my provincial government remains sedated on climate action.

It’s time to give young people another advantage.

Last year, a private member’s bill from MP Taylor Bachrach to extend voting rights to 16-year-olds set a record. Out of all bills of its kind, The Right to Vote at 16 Act received the most parliamentary and civil society support in Canadian history.

His bill was voted for by all Bloc Québécois MPs, all NDP MPs, both Green Party MPs and 20 of the Liberal MPs who were all urged to vote against the bill. Dozens of advocacy groups collaborated in the fight to secure this result.

In the other chamber, Sen. Marilou McPhedran’s current voting age bill, colloquially known as the Vote16 Act, will most likely come to its second reading vote next year. McPhedran’s campaign to lower the voting age has included benchmarks like the first bill of its kind introduced in the upper house, and the first in either chamber to pass second reading.

The Vote16 Act presents the best opportunity for Parliament to move this policy forward and to embolden local campaigns: to listen to the arguments, hear from experts, and consider the evidence.

As Canada’s population ages and voter turnout rates continue to decline, the push to extend voting rights becomes increasingly prescient. Ten Canadian municipalities have called for this change; a constitutional challenge of the current voting age is building steam; and a growing number of prominent leaders, academics, and advocates are coming forward to endorse this cause.

Young people may shout as loudly as we can about our desire for a better world. We can write letters, we can attend rallies, we can become the leaders of movements. But when some of us don’t get a vote, governments can — and do — choose not to listen. They can choose not to put themselves in our shoes.

In the face of ambivalence and exclusion, the vote is the institutionalized voice.

It can’t be ignored.

Aleksi Toiviainen is the strategic co-ordinator for Vote16 Canada, an advocacy group dedicated to extending voting rights to 16-year-olds at the federal, provincial, territorial and municipal levels. He is also a researcher and adviser to Ind. Sen. Marilou McPhedran. Aleksi is pursuing an honours bachelor of arts degree in social sciences at the University of Toronto.

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Canada is and always has been an oligarchy. "Democracy" is an illusion. All of the main political parties, including the NDP and the Greens, are there to maintain the status quo. Voting for these parties ensures the same people stay in control: a handful of rich families and corporations. As Mussolini once said "Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power". Economically, Canada has always been controlled this way from the Northwest and Hudson Bay companies to the present. Even more so after forty years of deregulation.