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Kate Heartfield: Proxy vote for children not a workable idea

Every party claims to be building a better future for our children. And every voter will find reasons for believing their party of choice is the best for their children.

Every party claims to be building a better future for our children. And every voter will find reasons for believing their party of choice is the best for their children.

Maybe you’re a social conservative worried about what you see as the decline in moral values; maybe you’re an environmentalist worried about climate change; maybe you’re concerned about government debt and spending.

You’ll vote for the party you think represents your interests and those of your children.

But that opinion is still your opinion and your vote. Not your kid’s.

Gordon Gibson wrote a thought-provoking column for the Vancouver Sun recently, arguing that parents should be able to cast extra votes on behalf of their children. Although he uses the phrase “a modest proposal,” the idea isn’t obviously satire and it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. But I don’t think it would work as intended.

For one thing, it wouldn’t “change the political balance significantly in favour of kids,” as Gibson suggests. It would change the balance in favour of parents.

It strikes me as illogical and even undemocratic to divorce the idea of “a vote” from the idea of “a political opinion.” If society has decided you aren’t old enough to evaluate policies, it has decided you aren’t old enough to vote. By definition, no one can decide how another person will vote. A vote is a decision.

Gibson argues that the needs of children outweigh their political clout, that changing demographics will mean policies to benefit the elderly will get more attention. But families aren’t divided into people-with-kids and people-with-grandparents. Most of us have young people in our lives we care about, whether they’re our own kids or not.

Gibson mentions early-childhood education as an example of the kind of policy that might get short shrift because kids can’t vote. I’m pretty sure my three-year-old has no opinion on whether his parents or the state should pay the preschool bill (although he might have an opinion on whether Kit-Kats constitute a main course). And how can I assume I know what he’ll think about early childhood education, or any other policy, once he grows up? How can I even begin to imagine the man that my son will be in the Canada of 2028, and then try to apply that imagined future man’s political ideas retroactively to the policy debates of 2013?

I can’t. So they can only be my decisions, my votes, not his.

Besides, we can’t assume that asking parents to consider their children at the ballot box would translate into more votes for state-subsidized early-childhood education.

I know plenty of parents who don’t believe in such policies.

I’m pretty sure non-parents are already making the choices they think are best for Canada’s future. But even if parents are thinking about their kids when they mark an X, it’s wrong to assume that would shift the balance in any coherent way toward a desired policy direction or party. It would just give more weight to the voters who had the most kids.

At the level of principle, the argument in favour of Gibson’s proposal is that kids are citizens who deserve representation. But how is imposing a vote on a kid giving him or her any more representation?

I don’t want an extra vote just because I happened to procreate, thanks very much. The job came with new responsibilities enough. I just want to raise a child who’s wiser and better than I am, so that 15 years from now, when his first election day comes, he’ll be equipped to make that decision on his own.