Not that I needed to be reminded of this fact, but last week once again demonstrated that politics is an unpredictable animal. The simple – at least on the surface – idea of reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 created a debate that has clearly stirred up a lot more controversy than I ever imagined when we decided to introduce the private member’s bill following the plebiscite last year when 16 and 17 year-olds were allowed to vote for the first time in Canada.

Initially it was my intention to introduce the bill, and to sit back and facilitate a reasoned discussion about the pros and cons of the notion. It may shock a lot of people to read that I have mixed feelings on the proposal myself. On balance, I think it will be good for democracy to include Islanders who are 16 and 17 in elections. My own experiences, a review of literature, and the global trend towards lowering the voting age in other jurisdictions tips the balance for me towards including them. But unlike many other issues about which I have very resolute opinions – the urgency of climate change, the value of preventative health care, the importance of diversity in agriculture, for example – this is an issue on which I am much more equivocal. It is, after all largely a philosophical debate, and therefore one which does not lend itself to evidence-based deliberation or definitive conclusions.

The first disappointment to me in discussing the issue appeared when we opened debate in the legislature. Rather than finding myself as a mediator, inviting discussion and differing opinions formed through introspection and critical thinking, I immediately found myself on the defensive, fending off some pretty odd challenges and ideas. Over two separate sessions, we “debated” the bill for over an hour. Debate is defined as: “serious discussion of a subject in which many people take part” offering opposing arguments. Opposing arguments were hard to find, but many concerns were raised about, amongst other things, under-age drinking, conscription, and juvenile criminal offences. To be fair, some MLAs did support their lack of enthusiasm for the bill with somewhat relevant (if mildly offensive and disparaging) thoughts – how tidy one daughter’s bedroom is, whether teenagers are capable of critical thinking and reasoned choices – but for the most part it was farcical, with straw men arguments continuously appearing, despite repeated assertions that the legislative implications of this bill do not go beyond the scope of how old voters in a provincial election should be. Period.

I am disappointed the bill did not pass, but I am far more disappointed in the level of debate that accompanied my proposal. Parliament (derived from the French, “the speaking place”) should exist as the pinnacle of reasoned discourse, where the best minds debate complex ideas and come to coherent, rational conclusions. Instead we have a place where all too often the strength of argument in favour or against an idea – whether that be electoral reform or child advocacy or perimeter highways – has nothing to do with whether it gets adopted in the House. Partisanship and prejudice overrule reason and persuasive argument, and frequently profound decisions are made based on flimsy rationale and closed-mindedness.

The stark irony here, of course, is that some of the arguments made against allowing Island youth to participate in democracy – that they aren’t capable of independent critical thinking, or that they will vote the way their parents voted, based on Party alignment – can be applied to the manner in which this debate unfolded in the House.

As I said in an interview following failure of the bill “It comes down to a difference in attitude. Either you trust and have faith in young Islanders and you encourage them to express their opinions and you respect what they say, or you don’t. You can choose to distrust them, suppress their voices and question their ability to make sound choices.”

I prefer to have confidence in our Island youth.

-Peter

 

8 Comments

  1. George McMinn 5 May 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Wouldn’t the Island be a great place to live, work and play even to visit if all politicians had 1/2 of Mr Baker’s insight, honesty and intigerty instead of the old tired political system we now currently enjoy. I for one say out with the old way of doing things and embrace change. Remember we can’t expect things to get better by making the same mistakes over and over again.

     
  2. Stewart Harding 5 May 2017 at 4:17 pm

    Great blog my friend 🙂

     
  3. dave howard 5 May 2017 at 6:15 pm

    My confidence in our Island youth resides in the “hope” they catch on to the “divide and conquer” mentality of the silly disrespectful games of win/lose we use to structure our affairs. The complete filth of the system where the creation of “losers” in the community is mandatory.
    Where “might is right”, and “majority rules”. Pretty neanderthal eh?
    Our demockery is but a statement that we are too stupid to work together in respect and diplomacy, regardless of our personal “beliefs” or opinions, for the benefit of everyone concerned.
    Much better to be divided into “parties”, and set to fighting each other like idiot children in the playground.
    If this “demockery” worked, the world and is inhabitants would no be in the disgraceful condition it is currently in.
    To say anything else is denial, .. or utter and complete stupidity.
    You’d think the constant upheaval of the “governing” system would be a red flag to the morons who demand to play these silly disrespectful games, … but not these morons eh?
    Now I know how hard it is for people to admit they have been “conned” because in a world where all we play is “win/lose”,, being a “loser” is not a desirable “position”. Winners have no respect for losers and demonstrate it at every opportunity.
    And the idiots are too stupid to play win/win with each other, and too stupid to even be ashamed.
    Oh well, there’s always the children, maybe they’ll see how they are designed to be the next generation of “losers” and do something about the situation. It’s obvious their parents don’t have the brains or the balls to accomplish such a simple thing for the future generations.
    You know, play respectful games of win/win.

     
  4. david weale 5 May 2017 at 6:55 pm

    Wonderfully balanced piece of writing.

     
  5. W.Wilkins 5 May 2017 at 8:28 pm

    As a former high school principal I worked with hundreds of young Islanders, so many of whom were far more intelligent than I could ever hope to be. To deny these people the opportunity to directly engage with the system that influences their future, in my opinion, is beyond shortsighted – it’s immoral. Shame on those “adult” politicians who misrepresented the potential of our youth and offered little more than platitudes and non sequiturs to support their untenable position.

     
  6. Darren creamer 5 May 2017 at 10:16 pm

    I spend a great deal of time with kids from 14 -18 years of age and when I discuss politics with some I find their insight to be very intelegent and thought out. I feel that they should be allowed to vote based on my personal experience with them. I also agree that some don’t engage and would not make informed decisions but that applies to a much bigger age group.

     
  7. JANICE MARTELL 5 May 2017 at 11:52 pm

    I may not recommend a 16 year old getting a vote on everything, but I think our greatest advocates to save our environment will have to be these 16 year old persons. Their commitment to saving our planet is alive and well

     
  8. David L. Bertrand 6 May 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Fascinating concept, but a predictable outcome I’m afraid. With the exodus of younger workers compounded with the overall aging of the provincial population, there’s just no future in youth in the short term. Sad, but true.

     

Leave a Reply