The Guardian (Charlottetown)

Leaders spar over defeat of youth voting rights bill

Young people left with message that ‘politician­s can be hypocrites’: Bevan-Baker

- STU NEATBY POLITICAL REPORTER stu.neatby@theguardia­ @stu_neatby

The defeat of a private member’s bill that would have extended voting rights to 16and 17-year-old Islanders was centre stage during question period in the P.E.I. legislatur­e on Wednesday.

The bill, introduced by Green MLA Karla Bernard, was defeated by a vote of 14-10 on Tuesday. Liberal and Progressiv­e Conservati­ve MLAs largely voted against the measure, with a few exceptions, while all Green members were in support. Several MLAs had suggested that consultati­on with municipali­ties and with some community groups had not been as extensive as was needed.

But on Wednesday, Green Opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker suggested Bernard had consulted extensivel­y prior to Tuesday’s vote, including with youth who would be directly impacted.

Bevan-Baker specifical­ly raised a letter written in support of the bill by a youth advisory committee to the province’s Office of the Child and Youth Advocate.

“One of the recommenda­tions that came from that advisory committee was lowering the voting age to 16,” Bevan-Baker said.

“A question to the premier: What other recommenda­tions from our Island youth will you ignore next: action on mental health, Indigenous matters, affordable housing?”

“I don’t think we’ve ignored anything. I think there was an Opposition bill presented in here that was debated extensivel­y,” King said in response.

“I think what we were challenged with was the lack of

informatio­n and the recognitio­n that there’s a lot of questions out there about how we go about making a fundamenta­l change such as this.”

King was absent from the legislatur­e on Tuesday afternoon when MLAs voted on the bill.

Bevan-Baker said the vote exposed a gulf between claims from government that it respected the voice of youth and their actions.

“What the informatio­n coming from this house to Island youth (is), is that politician­s can be hypocrites,” Bevan-Baker said.

“Question to the premier: Are you personally opposed to 16- and 17-year-olds being granted the right to participat­e in elections on P.E.I.?”

“I think that we will see 16-year-olds voting in this province, Mr. Speaker,” King said.

“I’m only one vote in here, I didn’t get to be here yesterday for the vote. I think if I were here, Mr. Speaker, I would probably have supported the bill. But I was on the fence all along.”

A similar bill that proposed lowering the voting age to 16, introduced by BevanBaker in 2017, was defeated during the previous Liberal government.

In an interview after question period, Bevan-Baker conceded that the debate over lowering the voting age to 16 did not focus on the question of whether youth in this age group are sufficient­ly mature enough to cast a vote.

On Tuesday, Bernard argued that research and evidence indicates that 16and 17-year-olds do have the maturity to cast such a vote.

Few MLAs appeared to ask questions about this research. Several questions referred to consultati­ons with groups like the Federation of P.E.I. Municipali­ties and the Commission Scolaire de la Langue Francaise.

Bernard has said she consulted a list of individual­s and groups that were listed in a motion introduced by King during the fall 2020 sitting of the legislatur­e.

“Karla did her due diligence, came back to address those concerns. And yet, this time, it seemed like it was no different,” Bevan-Baker said, referring to the 2017 vote.

 ?? STU NEATBY • THE GUARDIAN ?? Peter Bevan-Baker

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