Hon. Patricia Bovey: Honourable senators, the following debate is on behalf of our colleague, Senator Wanda Thomas Bernard, who was unable to join us today.
Honourable senators, I rise today in support of Bill S-201, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age). Thank you to our colleague Senator McPhedran and the Canadian Council of Young Feminists for their tireless advocacy on this issue and for bringing this issue to the Senate. Your dedication to young people’s leadership and civic engagement is admirable.
Earlier this spring, I had the honour of participating in a virtual roundtable on voting age and civic engagement with our colleague Senator Clement, the Deputy Mayor of Shelburne, Steve Anderson and representatives from Operation Black Vote Canada. There were Black youth from across the country present for that event. The message I heard was loud and clear; Black youth want the opportunity to engage in the decision-making processes that impact them. Being able to vote sooner would be incredibly empowering and engaging for young Black people looking to make change in their communities. I would love to see a future with more Black leaders in municipal, provincial and federal politics. Creating space for this type of civic engagement early on for youth is a promising start.
During this round table, young people shared their aspirations to be involved in politics after the voting age is lowered. They shared their stories and concerns on big issues like climate change, poverty, food insecurity, mental health and the impact of the pandemic on youth. Young people are faced head-on with these issues and are well capable to understand the democratic process.
Many of these young people feel disenfranchised because they cannot vote and are very supportive of the recommendation for the voting age to be lowered to 16. They talked about the fact that they are already making decisions in their lives that require responsible and critical thinking, such as driving, working and engaging in sexual relationships. Some of these young people are already stepping up to the plate by being the responsible adults for other family members. They believe that lowering the voting age aligns with their current realities and responsibilities as contributing community members. Senator McPhedran highlighted in her speech the evidence that supports the maturity and responsibility of young people, so I will not speak further on this point.
Black Canadians have historically been pushed outside of political processes since our first arrival in this place we now call Canada. The history of racism, segregation and marginalization has left us feeling unwelcome and disengaged in most public and private spaces. Given this long history, one of my main priorities as a senator has been getting involved in engagement sessions with young Black community members about leadership and civic engagement. I focus on strategies to build brighter, more engaged futures with these young people. Many young people are ready and willing to become strong leaders in their communities and just need an opportunity to be meaningfully involved in our democratic process.
The third pillar of the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent is development. Given our long history of disenfranchisement from politics, I believe empowering young Black people to become involved in politics is a valuable component of that development. Many young people who attended the round table are already involved in local political campaigns despite being unable to vote for the politicians for whom they are campaigning. The youth in this session expressed frustration that they are not taken seriously because they are not yet of voting age. A lower voting age would give space to these young people to voice their opinions and reflections on critical issues. Making this change would allow young people to have a meaningful impact on their communities and their country.
Honourable senators, I am in support of Bill S-201. After having participated in this valuable round table consulting with Black youth, I have confidence that this bill has the power to mobilize Black youth — an important demographic who is ready to have a say in leadership in their communities. Supporting this bill is supporting a future of strong leadership and civic engagement.
Colleagues, Senator Bernard has thanked me, as she writes, “for generously delivering” her debate on this important issue.
Before closing, I want to add my support to hers of this bill and say that I, too, have done much consultation with young people across the country, in the North and with Indigenous young people. To Senator Bernard, I say “thank you” for her viewpoint. To Senator McPhedran, I say “thank you.” On behalf of Senator Bernard, I say “thank you, colleagues. Asante.”