Comparing Mechanisms for Substantive Representation of Ethnic Minorities and Indigenous Peoples Conference, 5-8 December 2018

Organized by Karen Bird ( and Netina Tan (

This upcoming event is a three-day workshop, held at McMaster University, seeks to bring together a group of renowned Canadian and international political scientists and graduate students to examine ethnic quotas, reserved seats, and alternative approaches that aim to increase inclusion of indigenous and ethnic minorities in government. This conference will focus on how institutional mechanisms of indigenous and ethnic inclusion vary globally and examine their effectiveness and substantive impact.

In some cases, mechanisms to secure descriptive representation of ethnic minorities are relatively recent developments (e.g., Singapore, Bolivia, Croatia, Burundi, Iraq), while in others they are longstanding practice (e.g., New Zealand, India). In Canada, where there is an enduring informal mandate for inclusion of ethno-regional minorities, we see ongoing consideration of such mechanisms and their effectiveness across a multitude of representative bodies. This is featured within discussions about “Aboriginal Electoral Districts,” and debates around recently abolished special ridings to ensure representation of Acadian and Afro-Canadians in the Nova Scotia provincial legislature. Across many of the countries that have experimented with such formal or informal inclusion mechanisms, it remains unclear whether guaranteed numerical political representation strengthens minority rights and improves substantive representation of the minority groups.

Our workshop will focus on global variations in formal and informal mechanisms of ethnic inclusion, outcomes for targeted groups, and the meaning for democracy.  The workshop will bring together distinguished scholars and practitioners with wide ranging regional expertise and extensive knowledge of these issues in such countries as Lebanon, India, South Africa, Croatia, Serbia, Taiwan, New Zealand, Singapore, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, the US and Canada. It will further provide an important training opportunity for graduate students and junior scholars in this area of research. We aim to organize the collaborative output of the workshop into a special issue or book publication. Moverover, we want to harness the insights from this session to advance scholarly and policy debates on how to promote effective representation of indigenous and ethnic minorities in Canada and countries around the world.