Notes on McGill Sortition Workshop

Here are some brief notes on a workshop on sortition held at McGill University.

“Representation, Bicameralism, and Sortition: With Application to the Canadian Senate”

McGill Sortition Workshop: Randomly Selecting the Canadian Senate

I had the pleasure of attending a fascinating one-day workshop on sortition and replacing the unelected Canadian Senate with a randomly selected Citizen Assembly that was held on December 9, 2016, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. Peter Stone (Political Science, Trinity College Dublin), Alex Guerrero (Philosophy, Rutgers), and Arash Abizadeh (Political Science, McGill) each presented papers on sortition in separate sessions.

In advance of the workshop, Abizadeh did a radio interview (at 21:10) on Ottawa Today with Mark Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe seemed very receptive to the idea of replacing the Canadian Senate with a randomly selected Citizen Assembly. Abizadeh also published an article in the Montreal Gazette in advance of the event.

This event was a timely opportunity to inject sortition theory and practice into current discussion of reforming the unelected Canadian Senate. Canadian Senator Paul Massicotte participated in the public forum and wrote a diatribe—“A randomly selected Canadian Senate would be a disaster”—against sortition following the workshop. Yoram Gat in his post on this insightfully commented on how exceptional such a response is: “It is an indication of the precarious position of the Canadian Senate with its non-electoral appointment procedure that the Senator feels that the proposal to appoint the Senate using sortition requires a refutation. It is a feeling that, as far as I am aware, no elected member of parliament has ever shared in modern times.”
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Participatory and Deliberative Democracy: Sortition and Democratic Representation

An upcoming session in the Political Studies Association’s Annual International Conference 2017:

Participatory and Deliberative Democracy: Sortition and Democratic Representation

Room: Executive Room B
Time Slot: Wednesday 12th April 11:00 – 12:30

Panel Chair: Dr John Boswell (University of Southampton)
Panel Members:

  • Mr Keith Sutherland (University of Exeter)
  • Dr Brett Hennig (Sortition Foundation)
  • Dr Peter Stone (Trinity College Dublin)
  • Mr Dimitri Courant (University of Lausanne & University Paris 8)

We are witnessing something of a revival in support for sortition, with the idea popularised in particular in David Van Reybrouck’s recent Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. Although the debate around the use of sortition has typically been tied to discussion of mini-publics, this panel seeks to look more broadly at its relationship to democratic theory and democratic practice more broadly conceived. It brings together proponents and sceptics, normative theorists and those whose work is more applied, for a contemporary, lively and varied debate on this age-old topic.