The Guardian (Charlottetown)
Leaders spar over defeat of youth voting rights bill
Young people left with message that ‘politicians can be hypocrites’: Bevan-Baker
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.