Should Children be Recruited in Party Politics?

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I found these lines in Brian Saunderson’s latest job-hunting email somewhat tone deaf:

It is also interesting that a 14-year-old can purchase a membership and vote in the Nomination process. If you have any family members who live in Simcoe Grey Riding who are interested, it is an opportunity for our youth to get involved in the democratic process.

I think it’s a questionable tactic to appeal to underage kids as if politics were a video game with no consequences. It also suggests a certain desperation: perhaps he’s not getting as many adults to back him as he wants, and needs to recruit their teenagers to his cause. I can only hope these kids can’t be dragged away from their smartphones or X-Boxes long enough to vote.

That any party allows children as young as 14 to vote in nominations is gobsmacking. I’m not suggesting teenagers are stupid or oblivious to issues, but at 14 they have had little if any formal education in politics and democracy, let alone the machinations of party politics and nominations. Younger kids will be barely out of puberty, and for the rest, I expect their interests will be more focused on what their hormones direct them towards. I doubt politics is high on that list. I’d be delighted to see more engaged teens like Autumn Peltier and Greta Thunberg in our world, but the sad truth is that they are the exceptions, not the rule.

I’m all for their participation at a voluntary level. I think it impressive if they participate, and would encourage it. But I believe as a society we should expect informed voting at every level, not emotional, and not doing what your parents tell you to do. At the very least one would expect some sort of qualification to determine their understanding of the issues or people they are voting for.

Fourteen isn’t even old enough to leave school without parental permission. Or get married, get a  driver’s licence, adopt a dog, sign a contract, get a credit card, open a bank account, or do any of a number of things older teens can do. They can’t vote in municipal, provincial or federal elections. Yet they can join a political party and vote for a party nomination? Something’s seriously out-of-kilter here.

(Yes, I know: given how many Americans voted for Trump in the last US election, it’s a tragedy of mass stupidity that so many adults make uninformed choices, but let’s not get sidetracked.)

There’s a good reason the voting age is 18: because if you can serve in the military at 18, you should be able to vote. But it was 21 from Confederation until 1982 and it took years of debate and challenges to get it lowered. I’m a long way from my parenting years, and even further from my early teens, but I can’t recall anyone at 14 with a serious enough interest in party politics (let alone the complexities of democracy) to grant them a vote on a candidate who will have influence over the lives of thousands.

If I were to sum up the lessons one could distill from Saunderson’s beloved, vindictive judicial inquiry (aka the SVJI), it would be:

Just because something’s legal doesn’t mean you should do it.

And I suggest the same applies to encouraging 14-year-olds to vote in party nominations: just because the party allows it, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. It would be as tactless as bringing young children to protest in front of town hall because council refused to give the YMCA a $35 million handout. There is a legal choice and an ethical choice one can make. 

But like the corollary lesson from the SVJI about apparent conflicts of interest*, I doubt this will be allowed to interfere with personal ambition.

Backgrounder:

Barely halfway through his term, Saunderson no longer wants to be our mayor and is actively campaigning for the better-paying job of MPP, although he still wants to be paid as mayor while he job-hunts. He refuses to step down from a job he clearly doesn’t want to do any longer even though it would be the right and ethical thing to do for the people of this community.

I would suggest that while he campaigns for another job one could say he occupies the office of mayor, but it is no longer appropriate to say he serves it. He simply serves his own political ambition.

Collingwood and Simcoe-Grey deserve better.

~~~~~

*The corollary lesson about conflicts of interest from the SVJI might be summed up as:

Just because something you do is legal doesn’t mean someone else won’t accuse you of wrongdoing.

This applies equally to Saunderson’s campaign to become the riding’s next MPP while he still collects his salary as mayor as it does to the events behind the judicial inquiry. To wit:

No one questioned by the lawyers or judge in the inquiry did anything illegal, but for political and personal purposes (or perhaps by some who expected to be paid for their opinions), there are those who want what was done to be seen as a conflict of interest. Even though it didn’t break any laws, they believe it was wrong. But no matter how self-righteous and indignant an opinion about someone else’s behaviour may be, no matter how loudly it gets shouted or how aggressively it gets used to further personal political ambitions, it is still just an opinion.

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