A motion started by a local trustee seeking to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote for trustees has passed its latest hurdle.
The motion, initiated by School Board 69 (Qualicum) trustee Jacob Gair in August and approved unanimously by the SD69 school board, was passed at the annual general meeting of the British Columbia School Trustees Association (BCSTA) on Saturday, April 28, said Gair.
He said approximately two-thirds of trustees voted for the motion.
“I feel wonderful about it,” said Gair. “It’s amazing, and I’m very grateful to my board for all the support along the way.”
Now it’s up to the BCSTA to push for the provincial government to amend the School Act to lower the voting age for trustee elections to 16 from 18.
Gair was the first person to speak on the motion at the AGM, which saw multiple others speak in favour of it, including SD69 trustees Barry Kurland and Elaine Young, he said.
Gair said he believes reducing the voting age to 16 would increase student engagement in a system that, while having a big impact on their lives, they feel doesn’t represent them. It would also better prepare students to vote in other elections.
“All too often students don’t feel invested in the system because they don’t have any say over it,” said Gair, who was voted in as a trustee at the age of 20.
“But if you have a democratic vote that you can decide who the trustees are… what you say does matter to somebody. Your voice is being heard and is being listened to because you can effect those changes.”
Voting while still in high school would also provide a practice ground for students ahead of becoming a full participant in democracy, he said.
Students would not only begin educating themselves about candidates, politics and how to interpret the media and politicians, Gair said, they’d be doing so alongside their fellow classmates and with teachers who they could turn to for help.
“I think that’s a very powerful step in the right direction for our democracy — giving people something of a trial run so that they can be more engaged once they turn 18 and have the opportunity to vote in a large election. Evidence has shown that if you vote young, you’ll continue voting, so this is a way to increase voter turnout once students do turn 18,” Gair said.
He added that he wasn’t sure when the BCSTA would begin its efforts to have the provincial government look into changing the School Act to change the voting age, but he added that Minister of Education Rob Fleming and Parksville-Qualicum MLA Michelle Stilwell are aware of the interest in changing the voting age.