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COLUMN: An opportunity to extend democracy missed by P.E.I. legislature

An election official hands back to a voter her marked ballot to place in the ballot box so she can cast her vote for the federal election at a polling station on Toronto's Ward Island on May 2, 2011. — Canadian Press file photo
An election official hands back to a voter her marked ballot to place in the ballot box so she can cast her vote for the federal election at a polling station on Toronto's Ward Island on May 2, 2011. — Canadian Press file photo

Green Party Leader Dr. Peter Bevan-Baker made a valiant attempt to convince his colleagues of the merits of extending the democratic process recently, but most of his fellow MLAs were having none of it.

The Kelly’s Cross-Cumberland MLA introduced a private member's bill that would have lowered the voting age to 16. It is not surprising it failed. While legislators (especially those from the governing party) often pay lip service to electoral reform, the end result is less than impressive.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised the 2015 federal election would be the last fought under the first-past-the-post system but then rejected the recommendations of an all-party committee on electoral reform. A panel on electoral reform in New Brunswick had some far reaching recommendations, including a vote at age 16, but they have been largely tabled by the Brian Gallant government.

Closer to home, Premier Wade MacLauchlan chose to ignore the results of a plebiscite on electoral reform because he decided not enough people had vote. There is, however, to be a yet undetermined question on electoral reform on the ballot in the next provincial election, which may or may not lead to changes down the road. Don't bet any of your retirement savings on that.

Pretend for a minute you are the leader of a political party that has just won an election. Which one of these two sentiments are you most likely to agree with: A. the electoral system is broken and the wishes of a significant number of voters are not reflected in the results, or B. The system works pretty well and I respect the judgment and wisdom of voters.

While some of us might think we would act differently than the prime minister or the two premiers, the reality is we probably wouldn't.

That being said, the low voter turnout of 16 and 17-year-olds in the electoral reform plebiscite didn't help Bevan-Baker's argument. The voting age was lower for that plebiscite vote with the reasoning that those youth would be old enough to vote in the 2019 election. Significant efforts were made by Elections P.E.I. to engage youth voters. and they were not as successful as organizers would have hoped with a voter turnout in that age bracket of 32.18 per cent.

However, it is worth noting that percentage is not far off the overall voter turnout of 36.45 per cent. Turnout was greater (although marginally) for those under the current age of majority than it was in the 18-24, 25-34 and 35-44 age brackets. The political system seemed able to survive 16 and 17-year-olds voting on that occasion just fine.

Don't forget, the right to vote includes the choice not to vote as well. There seems little reason why the governing Liberals voted down the request other than the self-serving thought that the system already works just fine because it elected them.

 

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Andy Walker is a former reporter for the Journal-Pioneer and is now a freelance writer who lives in Cornwall, P.E.I. awalker@islandtelecom.com

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