They’re old enough to drive, pay taxes, and even join the military but 16 and 17-year-olds can’t vote in B.C. and Green Party leader Andrew Weaver wants to change that.

“If you talk to the average 16-year-old in socials 11, I’ve gone to I don’t know how many socials classes across B.C. over the years, they’re engaged,” Weaver says. “I would argue they understand our system and the issues in many cases more than the average British Columbian does who isn’t learning about it in school.”

With new numbers out this week showing turnout for registered voters under age 45 in the last provincial election was only between 46 and 56 per cent ? compared to 67 to 75 per cent for older voters ? Weaver says engaging young people earlier could make all the difference.

“British Columbia has an opportunity to show progressive leadership in this area, to recognize that it is youth who inherit the consequences of our decision, yet they’re not able to participate,” says Weaver.

Voting rights have already been extended to 16-year-olds in Scotland, Argentina, Austria and Brazil, with positive results.

Weaver’s tried twice before in B.C. but introducing his private member’s bill again Tuesday morning, he’s hoping “third time’s the charm” since the NDP government campaigned on reducing voter registration to 16.

“I believe that young people are very much focused on learning and understanding our political process and we want to see participation rates in every demographic go up,” premier John Horgan says, in response to questions about the bill.

But the premier wouldn’t commit to supporting it, saying MLAs need to consult with their constituents to see if it’s what the public wants.

“If there’s an overwhelming desire to move the voting age down, I’m more than happy to do that,” says Horgan.

Critics say a younger voting age could also benefit the Green Party and NDP, which are often more attractive to younger voters. But if the bill is passed, Weaver claims democracy will be the real winner.

Tess van Straaten