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.

8 Responses

  1. If we don’t have explicit arguments against sortition from elected politicians yet, we do have “virulent leftistJean-Luc Mélenchon issuing a formal denial of rumors that he plans to use sortition to select candidates for the legislature.


  2. Massicotte starts out with making the analogy that the Canadian senate is like the Canadian hockey team: both should be filled with those with the most skill and expertise.

    But later on in Massicotte’s arguments against replacing himself and his fellow senators with randomly selected Canadians, he ends up making the very argument for his own replacement.

    Here is Massicotte’s key sentence: “This [randomly selected Canadians formulating electoral reform policies that were subsequently rejected in referenda] might be considered a success for a political scientist, looking at it from the ivory tower of academia, but looks more like a waste of time and money if you’re looking at it from Parliament, where real-world decisions are made that affect real Canadians.” Therefore, senators should make the decisions.

    Massicotte is describing the limitations of experts and elites like Abizadeh in judging what’s best for “real Canadians” and arguing instead in favor of leaving policy to those who can make “real-world decisions.” This is precisely Abizadeh’s argument.

    Any Canadian could turn Massicotte’s argument against him by rewording his sentence as follows: “The policies of the Canadian Senate might be considered a success by the senators inside it, looking at it form the ivory tower of Parliament, but it looks more like a waste of time and money if you’re looking at it from the living rooms of everyday Canadians, where real-world decisions are made that affect real Canadians.” Therefore, real-world Canadians should make the decisions.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Yoram,

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

    So we should consider ourselves lucky the more elected officials come out against sortition? This is a clear indication of the gulf between those of us (including myself) who argue that sortition is a way of improving existing forms of governance and those (like Yoram) seeking a popular reaction, or even revolution, against any form of political elite. Peter Stone argued recently there are no recent examples of political change in which existing political elites had no part to play, but I suppose the election of Donald Trump might well refute that claim, as most of the GOP establishment was against their own candidate. As to whether “the masses” would ever choose to seize power from the elite and hand it to randomly-selected persons (as opposed to a person of charisma) is another matter, as there is certainly no historical precedent for that, notwithstanding Ober’s idiosyncratic perspective on the Athenian “revolution”.


  4. My proposal for the Canadian Senate (and by implication the British House of Lords) is, as argued in published articles, that senators be chosen by minipublics/juries for set terms on the well-informed and open-field-of-candidates basis that such an approach is suited for providing.

    For those who accept Massicotte’s Team Canada analogy and want a Senate of the talented and experienced, a Senate chosen by minipublics is a good and highly democratic way to provide that, as minipublics would tend to choose people of exceptional ability and experience.


  5. Anonymous in previous comment = Simon Threlkeld

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Simon,

    A high-stakes, once-in-4-years decision is not a highly democratic appointment process. The allotted body must have an ongoing hire-supervise-fire role for it to be able to effectively represent the interests of the people.


  7. Yoram, I agree there r shortfalls in democracy in that approach, however it is far more democratic and appropriate than the Senate being chosen by the Prime Minister (or other politicians), or by popular election.

    If we r to have “people of exceptional ability, experience and knowledge” fill legislative chambers, independent regulatory boards and the judiciary, it will in general be best that they r chosen by jury/minipublic rather than by politicians or popular election.

    Part of my position on lawmaking is, as you know, that the final say should reside with inipublics, not with politicians, not even politicians chosen by jury.


  8. […] Yoram Gat in his post on this ( insightfully commented on how exceptional such a response is: “It is an indication of the […]


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