Second reading of Bill S-209, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act and the Regulation Adapting the Canada Elections Act for the Purposes of a Referendum (voting age)—Amendment by Senator Wells

By: The Hon. Pierre Dalphond

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Colourful homes, St Johns, Newfoundland

Hon. Pierre J. Dalphond: I have not prepared a speech and had not planned on speaking, but I feel a need to make some comments in response to Senator Wells’ speech.

The minimum voting age issue is a fundamental one, but I think that we need to look at the concept of age from a broader perspective. For example, in Quebec, a child can receive medical treatment without parental consent as of the age of 14. At the same age, children can refuse medical treatment to which their parents consented, even if it will lead to their death. In many provinces, including Quebec, children can get a driver’s licence at 16, drive around in a car and put the safety of others at risk.

In many U.S. states, people cannot drink until they are 21, but are able to obtain and carry a firearm at 16 or 18.

Honourable senators, age is not a magical concept. Rather, it refers to a degree of maturity and a body of knowledge and learning opportunities. I do not know what is the perfect voting age or whether 18 is too old or too young. However, I believe that it is worth studying this matter and hearing from witnesses.

Psychiatrists will tell you that the brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 21. Must we therefore prohibit people from voting before the age of 21? This bill raises a lot of questions. I think that an in-depth examination would be more advisable than to defeat the bill at second reading. A committee could hear witnesses, ask questions and prepare a constructive report, while participating in the debates on a very important question: What place do we give young people in our society?

For example, Senator Wells spoke of young people who become members of political parties at 14 and who vote as party members in leadership races. However, since they do not have the right to vote in the next election for the leader they chose, their party leader, they are not really able to participate in the process or see their chosen leader become leader of the government.

Still, it is quite amazing to see that at conventions, up to 33% of membership spots within certain political parties are reserved for young people who can vote on policy issues that later become the party’s official policies.

I think it would be a bit premature to defeat the bill at this stage. I therefore invite my colleagues to defeat this amendment. However, I am very sympathetic to Senator Wells’ argument that knowing who can vote in an election is an issue that legitimately belongs to the elected members and the political parties. However, that does not preclude the Senate from conducting a study on the issue, and that is what this bill allows us to do. The report that would follow this study would allow us to contribute to the collective reflection and analysis, including that of MPs.

I urge my colleagues to defeat this amendment.

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