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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Mary Beard and UKIP’s Arron Banks agree over sortition for the House of Lords

SPQR author Mary Beard and UKIP eminence grise Arron Banks occupy the opposite poles of the political spectrum — the former being a self-acknowledged liberal leftie and the latter a Trump-supporting right-wing populist. After their Twitter war over the role of immigration in the downfall of the Roman Empire they agreed to meet over lunch to discuss their differences and were surprised to find that they had more in common than either of them anticipated:

After they have warmly agreed to renationalise the railways and the energy companies, draw the House of Lords by lot because it works perfectly well for juries, scrap Trident, and counter the mania for solving every problem with legislation, Mary concedes that the philosophical borders of Banksland “lie in a slightly different place to where I’d previously thought”.

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Canadian Senator advises against an allotted Senate

Paul J. Massicotte, a senator representing De Lanaudière, Quebec, responds to a piece by Prof. Arash Abizadeh advocating changing the selection procedure of the Canadian Senate to sortition.

Massicotte offers a modern version of the Socratic argument against sortition:

Who wants to play hockey for Team Canada at the next Olympics? Who knows — there could be plenty of openings if the NHL won’t let its players take part in the 2018 Winter Games. But imagine if Team Canada just randomly grabbed people from the lineup at Tim Hortons for its Olympic hockey squad. The results would obviously be disastrous. So, why would we expect anything better if we replaced the Senate with an assembly of citizens picked at random?

Forget skill and hard work — this may be your lucky year if your name is drawn from a hat.

Sounds silly, right?

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. With some luck, however, it may not be too long before arguments against sortition are offered by elected parliamentarians in the French-speaking world.

Crowdfunding Anthony Barnett’s WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit

unboundAnthony Barnett’s new book WHAT NEXT: Britain after Brexit is available for pre-order on Unbound. He writes:

Dear Fellow Kleroterians!

Thank you for permitting me to join you on this blog. I’m writing with a shameless request, but in this post-Brexit world being polite and submissive and deferential in a British way seems to be for the birds. Towards the end of the last century I wrote a paper suggesting that a section of the upper chamber should be selected by lot. Peter Carty got in touch with me, as he had been writing a paper on similar lines. We developed it into a publication for Demos, then directed by Ian Christie, published in 1998. Ten years later we turned it into a book, The Athenian Option: radical reform of the House of Lords, published by Imprint.

There was a moment I’ll never forget – which we write about in the book. In order to put replacing the Lords into the long grass, Tony Blair created a Royal Commission in 1999 to take evidence across the country. Because our Demos paper had caused a stir we were invited to give evidence. On the way into the session I found myself in a small lift with one of its senior members, Douglas Hurd, at that point Baron Hurd of Westwell. He had been close to Edward Heath, had been Foreign Secretary under John Major, who he had failed to beat for the Tory leadership. A grandee, I think, was the term at the time. the very opposite of the kind of regular person who would have been chosen had the Commission been selected by lot.
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Sortition: the idea, the meeting, and a strategy

[Latest news from the Sortition Foundation blog]

There’s exciting news from the Sortition Foundation:

  • The idea: A new “compelling, inspiring” book on sortition, The End of Politicians, by director and co-founder of the Sortition Foundation, Brett Hennig, is being crowd-funded now by book publisher Unbound: https://unbound.co.uk/books/the-end-of-politicians

The-End-of-Politicians-screeenshot

  • The meeting: The first Sortition Foundation Annual General Meeting will be held at 6pm on Wednesday April 6th in central London. Venue to be confirmed depending on numbers, so please RSVP if you intend to come along.
  • The Strategy: A strategy meeting on how to progress the Citizens’ Parliament campaign (http://www.citizensparliament.uk/) will also be held on Wednesday April 6th from 1-4pm in central London. Exact venue will also depend on numbers, so please RSVP if you want to come along.

Read on for more details on all of the above.

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#LordsReform – Let the People Decide

From the Sortition Foundation blog: http://www.sortitionfoundation.org/lords_reform_let_the_people_decide

Sortition certainly sounds good to us – but how do we get from here to there?

#LordsReform Let the People Decide

The Sortition Foundation has released a Draft Strategy Document outlining some ideas. The first campaign proposal is a call for a Citizens’ Parliament on House of Lords Reform (http://www.citizensparliament.uk/). The campaign, to be officially launched later this year, will call on the UK government to constitute and empower a 650-member, random though representative sample of ordinary citizens to consider, research, deliberate on, and then make a House of Lords Reform proposal, to then be put to a national referendum. You can already sign the open letter calling for a Citizens’ Parliament on Lords Reform.

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2015 review – sortition-related events

This is a review of notable sortition-related events of the year 2015.

Brett Hennig wrote to mention citizens’ assembly pilots and the Irish constitutional assembly which led to the marriage equality vote.

In my mind the two most notable sortition-related events of 2015 were:

  • In Mexico, the Morena party allotted of some of its congressional candidates among the party rank-and-file. This was covered on Equality-by-Lot here (English version), here and here.
  • Leading Belgian politicians from various parties proposed changing the selection method of the Belgian upper house to sortition. This is the most high-profile proposal of its kind of the modern age.

Continuing the trend of previous years, those developments happened in the non-English speaking world. However, they are a reflection of a wide-spread disillusionment with elections – a sentiment that is as common in the English-speaking world as it is outside of it.

In the US this sentiment found an electoral outlet in the surprise strength of the campaigns of two presidential candidates which are perceived as being outside of the electoral establishment – Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. This fact was observed in a relatively well-noticed academic paper in Science journal by Fisman and Markovits about the way class affects policy choices. The authors drew from their work some conclusions that come close to an indictment of the electoral method.