Case Study 3: Youth

Context Card

A photograph showing a group of young people protesting, waving Canadian flags and signs that say “vote.”
Source: Dave Chidley / The Canadian Press

In 1867, at the time of Confederation, only certain men aged 21 and older could vote in federal elections. People were considered mature enough at this age to make important decisions. During the two world wars, people under 21 could vote if they were in the military, but those rights were removed once peace returned. However, the wartime service of young Canadians led some parliamentarians to ask whether the voting age should be reduced.

In 1970, a full century after Confederation, the voting age was reduced to 18 with little debate, likely due to changing perceptions of the role of youth in society. Today, there is discussion in society about how to get more youth involved in the democratic process. Many are pushing for lowering the voting age to 16.

Activity Cards

1867

A painting depicting the Fathers of Canadian Confederation.  
Source: © House of Commons Collection, Ottawa

When Canada is formed in 1867, the minimum age for voting in federal elections is 21.

The Fathers of Confederation believe that people younger than 21 lack the knowledge and maturity to elect their representatives.

1917

Black and white photograph of a group of soldiers in an empty battlefield marking their ballots.  
Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-002318

During the First World War, everyone who serves the country through military service is given the right to vote, no matter how old they are.

People are supposed to be 18 to serve in the military, but many who enlist are younger.

1919

Black and white photograph of three young soldiers in uniform.  
Source: Jean-Baptiste Dorion, Library and Archives Canada, PA-122937

The First World War ends. The minimum voting age returns to 21.

Military personnel who had been able to vote at a younger age lose that right.

1940

Black and white photograph of a group of men wearing military uniforms, gathered around a table. One man gives a ballot to another man. On the wall is posted a paper that reads: “List of Electors.”
Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-005160

During the Second World War, everyone serving in the military is able to vote in a federal election, no matter how old they are. Around 700,000 people in the military are under 21.

1944

Black and white photograph of Tommy Douglas sitting in his office, signing and official document and smiling at the camera.  
Source: Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan, R-B5749

Under Premier Tommy Douglas, Saskatchewan lowers the voting age to 18 for provincial elections. It is the first province to do so. This move prompts several other provinces to lower the voting age to 18 or 19.

1945

Black and white photograph showing a large group of women wearing military uniforms smiling at the camera.
Source: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada, PA-145516

The voting age for federal elections returns to 21 for military personnel, the same as for other Canadians.

1948

Black and white photograph showing a group of young people standing together with Agnes Macphail.
Source: Courtesy of The St. Catharines Standard, photographer Don Sinclair

Youth at a national conference ask a panel of parliamentarians whether the federal voting age should be lowered.

Some prominent parliamentarians, such as Agnes Macphail and John Diefenbaker, are open to the idea.

1968

Black and white photograph of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau shaking hands with a young person, while standing at the centre of a large group of smiling youth.
Source: Dick Loek, Toronto Star via Getty Images

Youth are active in the 1968 election, which brings Pierre Trudeau to power. Mobilized by the youth culture movement of the 1960s, they rally, march, lobby and petition Parliament on many issues.

1970

Photograph of Canada’s House of Commons.
Source: © Library of Parliament - Roy Grogan

Two different bills to lower the voting age are introduced in Parliament—one as a private member’s bill and one by the government.

With little debate, the voting age for federal elections is lowered to 18. Millions of new voters can cast votes in the 1972 election.

2016

Photograph of four smiling teenagers holding up a piece of paper.  
Source: Brian Higgins, CBC Licensing

PEI allows 16-year-olds to vote in a provincial plebiscite on electoral reform because these youth would use the new electoral system at the next election, when they are 18.

Voting age for provincial elections in PEI (and all of Canada) remains at 18.