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Motion: Reduction in Municipal Voting Age from 18 to 16

At the May 31, 2016 public Board meeting I brought forward a motion to recommend that the Government of Alberta amend the Local Authorities Election Act to reduce the municipal voting age from 18 to 16.  The following was my introduction to the motion:

“By the age of 16 young people can live on their own, pay property taxes, join the army reserves, be a parent, drive a car but they cannot vote.  They use our city’s road, facilities, buses, transit but they do not have a say in shaping our city’s future because they are not allowed by law, to vote.  They learn about government in school and they have shown in so many ways that they are engaged in their communities more than ever and understand the issues at hand but they are not allowed to vote until they are 18 years old.

Cameron Somerville the Vice Chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council did a survey of 16 and 17-year-olds, and they overwhelmingly responded that they were in favour of lowering the voting age.

In his research, he learned that Austria lowered its voting age to 16 for national elections in 2007. Six years later the voter turn out for 16 and 17 year olds was higher than for 18-20 year olds.

Mr. Sommerville commented in a recent CBC interview that “This is important because people who vote in their first election are more likely to become lifelong voters…So that higher turnout among people voting in their first election means there will be lifelong voters, and ultimately more voter engagement for city council, which allows them to have more of a mandate from the people and also potentially run on broader platforms.”

In regards to school board elections he says lowering the voting age would allow youth to have a say in who runs our school system.  “It would also give a great opportunity to school trustees, people running for those positions, to have in their platforms issues catered to students, which will ultimately allow school boards to do their jobs more effectively.”

The ECSD Board of Trustees is being asked to support the City of Edmonton Youth Council’s initiative.  In the words of Mr. Sommerville:  “It’s not just about 16- and 17-year-olds, it’s about creating a better environment for everyone.”


That the Board of Trustees write a letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs Danielle Larivee advocating for a reduction in the municipal voting age from 18 to 16.”

The Board determined at the May 31, 2016 meeting that instead of voting on the motion immediately, I would provide the Board with more information and bring the motion back for a vote later in the Fall of 2016.  I am presenting the following information to Board in preparation for this Fall public Board meeting.

As the August 14, 2016 issue of the  Edmonton Journal states:  “[Lowering the voting age to 16 is] an idea slowly gaining traction in Europe and North America”.  The idea has also gained traction in South America as the following list of countries shows (I have included the year that the lower voting age was introduced in brackets if it was available):

  • Austria (2007)
  • Argentina (2012)
  • Norway (2011)
  • Municipality of Takoma Park, State of Maryland, USA (2013)
  • Scotland (2015)
  • Brazil (1988)
  • Germany (1995, municipal and regional level)
  • Cuba
  • Switzerland (municipal and regional level)
  • Ecuador
  • Nicaragua
  • British Crown Dependencies of  Isle of Man (2006), Jersey and Guernsey
  • Bosnia
  • Croatia
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia
  • Montenegro
  • Dominican Republic
  • Estonia (2015)
  • Malta (2013)
  • Indonesia, Sudan and Timor Leste allow 17 year old to vote

So the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 is hardly a new idea and certainly worth exploring given the number of countries across the world that have found merit in including 16 year olds in the democratic process.

The subject of lowering the voting age has received much attention recently within Alberta and Canada:

  • In February 2015 David Coon, MLA for Fredericton South introduced a petition to lower the voting age to 16 for New Brunswick’s provincial elections.
  • In September 2015 the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association discussed a resolution (pp. 37-39) brought forward by Lethbridge City Council to lower the municipal voting age to 16.  Though the resolution was defeated 77% to 23%, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi expressed his support in a Globe and Mail article.  He commented that allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote would be a great way to get them interested in the democratic process.  He referenced the research which shows that the results of mock student votes reflect closely actual results within 3 or 4 seats.
  • In January 2016 Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway introduced Bill C-213 which would allow 16 year olds to vote in federal elections.

The United States as well is also studying the subject:

  • The City of San Francisco has placed the question of lowering the municipal voting age on the November 2016 federal election ballot.
  •  Massachusetts, New York and New Mexico state legislators have recently been grappling with the issue as well.

The interest and attention of this issue across Alberta, Canada, Europe, North and South America stems from the many studies on the subject which dispel the fears and myths around lowering the voting age to 16.  In fact many of the arguments used against lowering the voting age to 16 were used years ago when the discussion was around lowering the voting age from 21 to 18.  The following are summaries of a few of the studies I have read which assures us that our democratic process will only benefit if the voting age is lowered to 16.

A study done by M. Wagner et al and published in Electoral Studies in 2012 addresses some of the criticisms for lowering the minimum voting age to 16.  The beauty of this study is that it involved under 18s who actually had the right to vote.  In 2007 Austria permitted under 18s to vote in their federal elections so this age group has casted ballots for the 2008 national parliament, the 2009 European Parliament, and the 2010 presidential elections.  The Wagner research study used data collected from a survey done in the run – up to the European Parliament elections of 2009 which over-sampled young people under 26.  So this study got rid of one considerable flaw from previous studies and that was collecting data on young people who did not have the right to vote.  It goes without saying that it is difficult to measure motivation and incentive to vote on a population that does not have that right.

This study addressed the following criticisms for reducing the voting age to 16:

  1. Young citizens under 18 are less able to participate and less motivated to participate in politics effectively than older voters
  2. The lower turnout of young people under 18 can be explained by their lower ability and lower motivation to participate in politics
  3. The quality of vote choice among voters under 18 is lower than among older voters

This study revealed the following:

  • Interest in politics is by no means particularly low among under 18s
  • There is some indication that political knowledge of the left to right continuum may be slightly lower for under 18s compared to other age groups. The study’s authors suggest that this could be due to the fact that younger citizens do not yet have the experience necessary to place parties correctly on a left-right scale.
  • Under 18s’ willingness to participate in non-electoral politics (rallies, party membership) is relatively high showing that they are as motivated to take part in political life as older age groups
  • Trust in institutions among citizens under 18 is significantly higher than the overall mean among all citizens so there is no indication at all of disaffection.

Given this, there is little evidence that citizens under 18 are less able or motivated to participate in politics.

In regards to turnout, the study shows that under 18s do have a lower voter turn – out compared to the rest of the population but it isn’t by much:

  • Under 18s’ average voting intention score was 5.91
  • 18-21 scored 6.24
  • Ages 22-25 scored 6.98
  • Over 30 scored 7.38

So under 18s only scored 0.33 less than over 18s and only 1.47 less than over 30s. This study did not explain why the voter turn- out was slightly less for under 18s but it was able to determine that it was not because of a lack of knowledge or interest in politics.  Nor was it due to democratic dissatisfaction and alienation.

In regards to the quality of the decision i.e. how under 18s choice in party lined up with their personal ideological preferences, they scored no differently than other age groups.  Even though it isn’t significant, under 18s scored higher than other age groups in congruence between their ideology and the party they chose compared to other age groups. So there is no convincing evidence that voting decisions of under 18s is in any way of lesser quality than that of older groups of voters.

The study’s authors conclude then that “Lowering the voting age does not appear to have a negative impact on the authentic preferences of the members of a community and the quality of democratic decisions.  This means that the potential positive consequences of this reform merit particular consideration…Our findings show that a key criticism of lowering the voting age to 16 does not hold:  there is little evidence that these citizens are less able or less motivated to participate effectively in politics.”

Daniel Hart, a psychology professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey published a study in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences in 2011 that concluded that 16 and 17 year olds are ready to vote.  The study’s abstract states:

“American adolescents manifest levels of development in each quality of citizenship that are approximately the same as those apparent in young American adults who are allowed to vote. The lack of relevant differences in capacities for citizenship between 16- and 17-year-olds and those legally enfranchised makes current laws arbitrary…Awarding voting rights to 16- and 17-year-olds is important, given the changing age demographics in the country, which have resulted in the growing block of older voters displacing the interests of younger Americans in the political arena. Finally, the authors critically examine claims that adolescents are neither neurologically nor socially mature enough to vote responsibly and conclude that empirical evidence and fairness suggest that 16- and 17-year-olds ought to be awarded the vote”.

A 2011 working paper on Youth Electoral Engagement in Canada by Andre Blais, University of Montreal and Peter Loewen, University of Toronto reveals that youth electoral engagement in Canada is declining.  This is verified by the April 2010 publication Youth Voter Turnout in Canada published by the Parliament of Canada :  in the 1972 federal election, 72% of 18 – 24 year olds voted.  By the 2000 election however, that number had dropped to 60% and by 2011, only 38.8% of 18-24 year olds voted in the federal election.  Blais and Loewen suggest that though the causes for this decline are unknown, it is known that the most powerful predictors of voting are interest in and information about politics.  It is safe to say that if our schools were to expand 16 and 17 year old students’ understanding of and interest in politics while they had an actual opportunity to vote in an election, a higher percentage of young people may continue to vote into the future.

The fact that voter turn out of 18-24 is in a nose dive begs us to consider ways that the federal, provincial, municipal levels of government as well as school boards can better engage our young people in the electoral process and ensure that they become life long voters.  I recommend that the Board of Trustees of Edmonton Catholic request the Government of Alberta amend the Local Authorities Elections Act to lower the minimum voter age to 16.

Addendum:  A helpful summary of arguments for amending the Local Authorities Elections Act has been provided by the City of Lethbridge in the Resolution they brought forward to the AUMA meeting in September of 2015.  Go to pages 37-38 at AUMA Resolution 2015.B5

Two Sides to a Story

Today Principal Hugh MacDonald was featured on the front page of the Edmonton Journal stating that he had been bullied by 2 trustees.  I believe that some facts were missing from the article which I am compelled to share with the public here.

First of all, the public needs to be aware that ECSD has an Administrative Regulation 408.1 which disallows any political campaigning on school property except under certain conditions.  Janet French did not cite the existence of this Administrative Regulation in her article.  The trustees running for their second term in 2013 when Mr. MacDonald made his comments at the principals’ meeting, were very much aware of this regulation as was I as a new candidate.  Principals are very cognizant of the regulation as well.  Several times principals shooed me off the public sidewalk in front of schools as I handed out flyers, citing this regulation.  I was getting such grief from principals that I called EPS to verify that I indeed was legally allowed to stand on a public sidewalk outside schools.  EPS assured me that I was able to do so as long as I was not disrupting traffic or being a nuisance to the public.  So principals and seasoned and unseasoned trustees know very well that this regulation exists and what its contents are.

The question becomes  why was Mr. MacDonald allowed to break Administrative Regulation 408.1 with impunity leading the 2 trustees to seek justice elsewhere?

Letter to the Editor (WCR): The Joy of Love

I recently read a wonderful  Editorial in the May 16, 2016 edition of the Western Catholic Reporter.  Here is my response to Mr. Argan’s editorial which I sent him today:

Dear Mr. Argan,

I wanted to write to you to express my deep gratitude for your editorial in the WCR May 16, 2016 “Pope Francis:  Open hearts will lead the brokenhearted to fullness of life”.  I commend you for capturing so well the spirit of Pope Francis’ comments on mercy in his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love).  In paraphrasing Pope Francis you say:

“The Church ought to be like a mother who trusts in people’s efforts to live by their consciences and do good, rather than a stern taskmaster who has rules for every conceivable situation.

People are more likely to be led to sanctity and, ultimately, to heaven by a mother who seeks to understand the painful situations of their lives.

Wasn’t that Jesus’ way? It was Jesus who ate with Zacchaeus before the tax collector expressed any hint of sorrow for exploiting people. Look at the result. Only after he felt Jesus’ warmth and acceptance was Zacchaeus liberated enough to pledge half his possessions to the poor and to pay back those he had defrauded four times the amount he had taken.

Jesus also told the woman caught in the very act of adultery that he would not condemn her. Yes, he told her to sin no more, but his primary message was not one of law, but of mercy.”

These are the very things we need to be saying to our Catholic LGBTQ students:  we need to offer them mercy not the law, a mother not a taskmaster, in order to welcome them into a relationship with Jesus who has mercy on them.  I would like to share with you why I believe this.

I attended a presentation by the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies at the U of A about Camp Fyrefly, a summer camp for LGBTQ youth.  The researcher – presenter said that the majority of camp participants even if raised in religious homes, identified themselves as atheists.  I was very saddened to hear this but was not at all surprised.  Many of these young people may have heard their pastor “apply moral laws…as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives”.  They must have encountered many religious people with the closed hearts of “one used to hiding behind Church teaching”.  I believe that we as religious people have done a great disservice to these young people by being so hostile toward them that they have distanced themselves from their faith — a faith that could have brought them much peace in their daily lives.  As you write in your editorial, we need to keep open the pathways of grace:  “Jesus’ way was not the way of judgment and exclusion. The ones he judged harshly were those who piled up laws and duties on the weakened backs of the sorrowful.”

You express so well in your editorial that the Church must help form consciences with God given moral law, “but refrain from judging people for how they live out that law in [the] mixed up circumstances of daily life”.  Can we as Christians and Catholics refrain from judging LGBTQ members of our society who are following their well formed consciences?

Would that the mercy expressed by the Pope toward divorced Catholics be extended to LGBTQ members of our Catholic community whose experience of our judgement and exclusion leads to high levels of suicide. We can mediate God’s mercy for them by accepting them as they are today — just as Jesus accepted Zacchaeus:  unconditionally.  Bathed in God’s mercy, all of us, including the LGBTQ members of our society, are much more inclined to journey toward Jesus than bathed in the crippling judgments of others.


Patricia Grell


A Call for the Reversal of Cuts to Artists in Residence Program


ECSD trustees unanimously passed a motion at their April 26,2016 public board meeting aimed at getting the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to put back the money it recently moved from programs for schools to other arts areas. The ECSD Board has now joined the Calgary Board of Education, Foothills School Division and 4 First Nation’s School Boards calling for the AFA to reinstate the Arts and Education fund to 2009 levels. Faced with a 5% cut to their funding from the Prentice Government in 2015, the AFA decided to cut its support to arts activities in schools in half. Concerned that the AFA funding was transferring funding away from a program which gives tens of thousands of kids per year across Alberta a chance to learn from professional artists, I investigated. Speaking with the Arts Ed community – an organization of individual and collective artists, trustees, and parents– I learned that since 2015, $500,000 was cut from the Artists in Residency school programs– a big drop from the $1.43 million the program received in 2008-2009.  I also learned that though around 200 schools will be applying for the Artists in Residency program for the 2016-2017 school year, only around 70 will be accepted at the current funding levels.  The Arts Ed community has been attempting to get a meeting with the Ministers of Culture and Education to no avail so I brought the issue up at our public board meeting this week.  The Board is requesting that the Ministers arrange a meeting between the Arts Ed community, artists, parents and trustees to discuss reversing the AFA cuts.

An apparent reason why the AFA cut half of their funding for arts activity in Alberta schools was to make the application uptake rate fairer between different project grants.   Prior to the cuts, the Artists in Residency program Organizational Project Grant was able to accommodate 60-70% of applications from schools.  The Individual Artists Project Grant programs, funded in the same envelope, could only accommodate about 30% or fewer of applications.  By cutting AFA-funded arts activity in schools in half, the AFA made the success rate for both programs appear fairer, putting both programs slightly above a 30% success rate.

The Artists in Residency program reaches many hundreds and thousands of people – students, teachers, and parents.  You may know these programs as the Shakespearean plays brought to your child’s school by Theatre Prospero, or French culture programs by Les Bucherons, or theater productions incorporating a school’s particular interest/focus with the help of Trickster Theater.    The Artists in Residency program is the main source of funding for the largest presenting network in the province: the schools. Reinstating the Artists in Residency funding to 2008-2009 funding levels ($1.43 million) would ensure that provincial tax dollars will get the most impact per dollar in providing artistic opportunities for Albertans both young and old, rural and urban, including aboriginal schools and communities.  As Catholics who believe in sharing with the less fortunate, the Board believes that these cuts should be reversed. Time is of the essence as the AFA will be reviewing applications in May.

We need a meeting with the Ministers of Culture and Education to discuss the impact of these cuts and hopefully to have the cuts reversed.  Phoning the ministers to express your concerns around the cuts would be a great help but an email as well would be appreciated. Here is the contact information for the two ministers:

Ricardo Miranda, Minister of Culture and Tourism:

Legislature Office:  780.422.3559, Fax: 780.427.0188

Constituency Office: 403.280.4022, Fax:403.280.3877



David Eggen, Minister of Education:

Legislature Office:  780.427.5010,Fax: 780.427.5018

Constituency Office: 780.451.2345, Fax:780.451.2344



A Response to Recent Comments

I have been pondering over the last few months how I would respond to recent comments made on my blog to the stand I have taken in regards to pastoral care for LGBTQ students in our Catholic schools.  I came across an article last week published in the National Catholic Reporter which expresses well my position on this issue.  Sometimes we can get our ideas across best through story telling.  Thank you to all who have written to me through my blog comments.  Even though we have taken very different positions on this issue, I appreciate that you took the time to write and express your views.  Neither you nor I are lukewarm on this subject and I think Jesus would appreciate that!  So here’s the story:Mercy Trumps Law During Holy Year of Mercy. Disclaimer:  I am not suggesting through this article that LGBTQ members of our society are sinners.  Some people in the church however — including some members of the hierarchy– do.


ECSD Public Board Meeting Comments re: Commitment to Inclusive Communities in Edmonton Catholic Schools Governance Policy #14

First Round Comments

I would have liked to support the amendments to GP #14 because they greatly improve the current version of this policy.  This latter version of GP #14 adds a very important quote from the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) which states that the Church believes any form of discrimination is contrary to God’s intent.  It is a very strong statement by the church and very symbolic that it came from a Council which sought dialogue with the world and with modern society.

This version of GP #14 also removes the phrase “unjust discrimination” from the document and simply states that our school district will overcome and eradicate “every type of discrimination” and maintain “an environment free from discrimination of any type”.  So this too is very positive.

So for these reasons I would have liked to approve GP #14 but I can’t because the purpose of this policy is to send it to the government in response to the Minister’s request on Nov. 5, 2015 for policy and regulations that in his words “respect diversity and fosters a sense of belonging”. He also requested that our Board specifically address our responsibilities as it relates to the LGBTQ community. This generic policy in my mind, does not do this.

I think that we also need to remember why we are here today:  last year around this time, a parent of a grade 2 transgender girl lodged a human rights complaint against ECSD because this mother believed that we discriminated against her daughter when our staff denied her access to the girls’ washroom.  At that time, because the Board did not have a policy on inclusion and diversity our staff  referenced Administrative Policy and Regulations 138: Commitment to Inclusive Communities in Edmonton Catholic Schools.  This Administrative Policy and Regulation is dated January 5, 2015 and predates the Human Rights complaint.  It is as generic as GP #14.  It didn’t work because it didn’t give clear direction to the staff on how to proceed in cases involving our LGBTQ students, staff and families.  We need to remember the adage:  “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.  I worry that the general nature of GP #14 will lead to general GP #14 regulations that will be unhelpful to our staff and administration who need clear direction on how to proceed with specific concerns brought forward by our LGBTQ students. Let us not forget that even the Catholic Independent Schools of Vancouver which are overseen by Archbishop Miller, have stand-alone policy and regulations for transgender students and gender expression.  If they can do it, so can we.

Trustee Bergstra kindly sent all ECSD trustees on March 9, 2016 a number of studies that revealed that stand alone SOGI policies are more effective than generic inclusive ones.  One of the studies she cited was called Every Class in Every School:  Final Report on the First National Climate Survey on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools.  This study which was funded by the University of Winnipeg Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Research Foundation for Society and Culture of Quebec and included 3,700 students from across Canada states that “Generic safe school policies that do not include specific measures on homophobia are not effective in improving the school climate for LGBTQ students.  LGBTQ students from schools with anti-homophobia policies reported significantly fewer incidents of physical and verbal harassment due to their sexual orientation” (p.9)    Our administration–not the Board because we have not yet to developed one– has a stand-alone Ethno Cultural Relations Administrative Policy and Regulations that gives very clear direction to staff on how to address racial discrimination.  Why is that we cannot have a stand- alone policy on how our district addresses homophobia and transphobia?

Second Round Comments

As I mentioned before, I would have liked to support GP #14 with the amendments because it is a great improvement over the current version.  One of the additions however,  which I think will only muddy the waters further for our staff, is the inclusion of the phrase “The Alberta Act, 1905 pursuant to Catholic Denominational Rights”.  We are suggesting to our staff that they operate under the laws of our country and our province in regards to human rights but then they also must be aware of our denominational rights as Catholics.  We all know that our local church hierarchy does not approve of accommodating sexual and gender minority students because any action in this regard plays into relativism and legitimizes consensual sexual expression  (Bishop Henry Pastoral Letter January 13, 2016). So how are our staff to balance all these competing interests—one to protect human rights and one to protect Catholic religious rights?  If there is ever a district that needs a clear policy on sexual and gender minority students, its Catholic districts.  I believe we need to pick a side in this debate and stick to it.  What we are currently doing with GP #14 is downloading our own ambiguity on this matter to teachers and administration who are on the front lines.  I believe that GP #14 is trying to be all things to all people and as a result will serve no one.

EPSB has had a very clear stand-alone SOGI policy since 2011 that reflects closely the Guidelines for Best Practices as provided by the Minister recently.   I asked Chair Michael Janz if he could share with me any problems with assaults in the bathrooms and change rooms, if there were any parents feeling they lacked consent, or if there were any cisgender students who felt threatened by transgender students sharing their washrooms, change rooms, sports teams, or overnight field trip accommodations.

He wrote back that their stand-alone policy and regulations “have helped facilitate safe, caring, and healthy learning environments for all staff, students, and families. We have received much praise for the policy, which has clarified our expectations and set the ‘tone at the top’ in our District.” And to be fair, I have never heard in the media, any mention in the last 5 years, that EPSB has had any human rights complaints or any other form of complaint from parents or from students despite the fact that their policy follows the current Guidelines suggested by the Minister of Education.  In fairness not only to our students but to our staff and administration, we need a stand-alone policy that will give clear direction on how we are to proceed as a district in accommodating our sexual and gender minority students.  We have tried a generic inclusive communities’ policy already and it didn’t work.  We need to learn from our mistakes so that we can reduce the chance of more human rights complaints and most importantly, so that we can fully support in a specific way our very vulnerable sexual and gender minority students.  For these reasons I cannot support GP #14 with the amendments.


An Apology

I wish to apologize to all those who were offended by the inclusion of Bishop Henry’s letter in a communique sent to all ECSD parents on Friday, Jan. 15, 2016.  I need the public to know that I tried to discourage my fellow trustees from including his letter in a communication we were planning on sending out to our parents on Friday.  As you can see, I was unsuccessful in convincing them that it would not bode well for our district and the future of Catholic education if we allowed ourselves to participate in disseminating his uninformed views and comments which frankly, in my opinion, are not in keeping with the spirit of the Year of Mercy recently declared by Pope Francis.

Many of my constituents have expressed their dismay/anger/horror/frustration/ that ECSD sent his letter which states so many hurtful and untrue things about the LGBTQ community — including that GSAs and QSAs are “highly politicized ideological clubs which seek to cure society of ‘homophobia’ and ‘heterosexism’, and which accept the idea that all forms of consensual sexual expression are legitimate.” This is not at all what GSAs and QSAs are — they are simply safe spaces for LGBTQ students and their allies to meet and receive support.  Studies have shown that schools which have GSAs lower suicide rates for LGBTQ students and even help reduce the bullying experienced by those perceived as LGBTQ.  As I have mentioned in previous blog posts:  GSAs are clubs which offer pastoral support to a very vulnerable group of students.  We need these groups in our schools as a means of saving lives.

There were many other things said in Bishop Henry’s letter which I disagree with and as an educated Catholic, I want my constituents to know that I unequivocally disagreed that it should be sent to our parents.