UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Democracy education and the Canadian voting age Hyde, Martin


The existence of a voting age in Canada is unjust and educationally unsound. It is unjust both because it arbitrarily excludes some people from voting who by any reasonable definition are competent, and because this restriction is not necessary for the safeguarding of Canadian democracy. The existence of this unnecessary, arbitrary restriction on one of the most basic forms of democratic participation teaches a lesson that is antithetical to democracy. Jürgen Habermas's explication of a theory of democracy provides an understanding of democratic participation as consisting of the ability to communicate competently with others. While under this conception voting is necessary only when consensus cannot be reached, in mass democratic societies such as Canada's, in which the time required to reach consensus is generally not available, the act of voting shifts into a more central position. Education for democracy is concerned with the development of citizens who are able to participate in their governance autonomously and justly, which leads us to the question of whether such education is better aided by the existence or absence of a voting age. An analysis of the Canadian political and legal context of the voting age provides a frame for this question. It appears that a Charter challenge to the Elections Act might well result in the age requirement being struck. A reading of Hansard indicates that, in response, Parliament would have two concerns of merit. The first pertains to whether or not permitting those under 18 to vote would harm their interests. The question here is one of who has the right to act paternally toward them in this matter. The second pertains to the need to ensure, in the interest of the whole society, that the values necessary for the continuation of a free and democratic society are not undermined, and where possible enhanced. It is argued that the interests of no one are better served by the existence of a voting age. Educationally, this restriction is unsound in terms of the acquisition of both reason and justice. The implications of this conclusion for educational curriculums are discussed in the final chapter.

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