David Coon: Lower the Voting Age?

Last Tuesday, David Coon, NB Green Party leader, told a class at St. Thomas University that he is confident in his ability to contribute to change in the province.

“I can make a change – I believe that. I can certainly make a change in the discourse that’s going on, and I think we’ll have some influence on at least the government’s side.”

Coon won the vote in the provincial election as the first Green Party seat to ever be elected into the legislature in September. He has kicked off his role as MLA for Fredericton South by proposing a bill to lower the voting age to 16.

“By lowering the voting age to 16, you get a much higher level of youth engagement,” he said. “When you’re 16 [and] 17, you’re still in a much more stable environment: you’re at home, you’re in high school, so you’ve got the family… the evidence does suggest that if you begin voting at 16 [and] 17, it does lead to much more of a life-long engagement than if you don’t.”

Coon said that this is definitely possible, but added that it depends partly on the amount of pressure that’s brought to bear from outside the legislature on the government. The bill, if passed, would see 16-year olds given the right to cast a ballot in the next provincial election, which will be held in 2018.

Coon also spoke on Tuesday about his first experiences in the legislature, comparing the offices to high school.

“Trying to get an office,” he laughed. “With the others parties saying ‘Well, we don’t want him here, we don’t want him there,’ for this reason, that reason – it was just crazy! In fact, high school’s better than that.”

He recalls, “The first day I sat there on the floor of the legislature – that was pretty cool. And then quickly realizing I was by myself. So, I sat in the front row being a leader of the third party, and the Conservatives here and the Liberals across, and I thought, ‘Boy… if there was ever an incentive to ensure more Green MLAs are elected next time, it’s this!’”

Coon’s ironic feelings of being back in high school and being alienated among the powers that be have an interesting relation in terms of who his target audience is with this new bill proposal. One might wonder if he feels as though he can now identify more with the youth in the province – a group who so many consider to be ignored. Either way, Coon and the Green Party are making a number of initiatives to get them involved and change the conversation, such as posting notes and videos on social media.

“It’s using it effectively to do that,” he stressed. “I think you have to be clever about that, but it’s not sufficient or a substitute. It doesn’t replace everything else.”

Coon says his plan is to get to them directly by going out and actually speaking to them and integrating his plans within their own communities.

“I’m trying to be present and engaged in our middle schools, high schools, and university campuses routinely. The MLA should not be special guest, but should be a regular landscape.”

Coon wants to work towards this as he believes youth engagement would be fundamental for creating transformative change.

“When you’re younger, you’re more wide open, you’re in a stage of life where you’re thinking about things, thinking about learning things, and I think there’s an openness to talk about anything. We have to start talking that way if we want to make the kinds of changes we need to deal.”

Diversifying the narrative of the political realm in NB is something that Coon aims to do, even in a system he sees as dangerously broken. He believes this to be an alienating disenchantment of the province, one that is no longer engaged or contributing to solutions. He wants to be a new voice, and he’s more than ready to make a change.

Though he’s wary as to whether the change he wants to make will be fundamental or not, he is hopeful that it will be a step in that direction – perhaps creating an interesting election for 2018. But for now, Coon just wants to focus on the present.

“Other fundamental change can happen politically outside of elections around engagement. Our democracy needs to function every day, not just every four years.”