Among a series of bills introduced by Andrew Weaver, B.C. Green Party leader and MLA Oak Bay-Gordon Head last month, two are poised to make a potential impact on the B.C. legislature: Bill M220, which proposes lowering the voting age from 18 to 16, and Bill M225, which proposes the institution of a comprehensive endangered species act.
Lower voting age not without precedent
“We need to get youth out, and this is one way,” Weaver said of Bill M220. “It’s been done in Brazil, it’s been done in Scotland, [so] it’s not like it’s unique to B.C.”
“We’ve reduced the voter age from 21 to 19 to 18 historically and it’s time to keep it going.”
Prince Edward Island also recently experimented with lowering the voting age to 16. In a Plebiscite on Democratic Renewal, held from Oct. 27 to Nov. 7 last year, P.E.I. elections allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to register and vote. However, due to a lack of public awareness, the plebiscite had a lower-than-normal voter turnout rate of 36.46 per cent, and none of its proposed electoral reforms have been implemented.
“In British Columbia, we know that there’s declining and woeful youth turnout in our [provincial] elections,” Weaver said. “One of the reasons why . . . [is that] many [young] people aren’t registered.
“We also know from the research that if you vote in your first election you’re likely to become a lifelong voter, so what I was trying to do here is encourage people to actually start voting when they can.”
While it’s true that voter turnout has been steadily declining since the 1980s, the percentage of voters aged 18–24 between the 2011 and 2015 federal elections actually increased from 38.8 per cent to 55.1 — an anomaly in a downward trend.
This isn’t Weaver’s first time introducing voting age legislation; in May of 2016, he introduced Bill M229, which proposed the same 16-year-old voting age, but didn’t make it beyond second reading. Asked whether the new bill contained any changes, Weaver said no, but that there’s “just more and more evidence supporting why I think it’s time to do it.”
However, Weaver says he doesn’t expect the bill to pass under the current B.C. Liberal government. “One of the reasons why I put it out there is there is an election coming up [and] certainly [lowering the voting age] will be in our platform,” said Weaver. “The B.C. NDP introduced a bill to drop registration — not voting, but registration of voters — to 16.
“In my view that’s a half-measure,” he said. “With a B.C. Green government, you would see [a lower voting age] come in. With a Liberal government, probably not.”
At-risk species currently without proper protection
Weaver’s proposed Endangered Species Act may face some obstacles before it too passes, but more surprising is the fact that it’s needed in the first place.
“B.C. is one of the few provinces that doesn’t have one,” said Weaver. “It’s remarkable. It’s a free-for-all up here in the wild west of B.C.”
Weaver’s proposed act would take a proactive approach, identifying at-risk species and taking action to protect them before population decline becomes serious.
“It also creates an arm’s length body called a Natural Resources Board, whose task is to ensure that decisions are made, or exclusions are made, based on the appropriate scientific evidence that’s available,” said Weaver.
The B.C. NDP introduced a similar bill, titled the Species at Risk Protection Act, on Feb. 28, but Weaver says that legislation isn’t quite as strong as Bill M225.
“It was less proactive and not creating an arm’s length organization that we did,” said Weaver. “So, I could see a compromise there between the two bills that were brought in, but we need something.”