EDMONTON — Alberta has awarded a prize to an essayist who argues the sexes are not equal and that women should pick babies over careers to avoid the province having to import more foreigners and risk “cultural suicide.”

The United Conservative government removed the essay from its legislature website Tuesday following an outcry of condemnation.

Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk — Alberta’s associate minister for the Status of Women and also the contest organizer and one of the judges — also distanced herself from the entire affair.

“The essay contest was intended to reflect a broad range of opinions from young Alberta women on what democracy means for them,” Armstrong-Homeniuk said in a statement.

“While the essay in question certainly does not represent the views of all women, myself included, the essay in question should not have been chosen.”

Armstrong-Homeniuk was not made available for an interview.

Her office declined to say who else sat on the judging committee and how and why the essay was chosen.

The contest advertised that essays would be judged by Armstrong-Homeniuk and other legislature members but did not specify names.

Armstrong-Homeniuk was appointed to the cabinet post in June but has been the face of the contest since it was introduced in February.

The United Conservative government removed the essay from its legislature website Tuesday following an outcry of condemnation.

The “Her Vision Inspires” contest challenged women ages 17 to 25 to describe their ideas for a better Alberta.

The top two essays suggest ways to get more women, and the public in general, involved in public life.

The third-place winner — identified only as S. Silver — won a $200 prize to be spent at the legislature gift shop.

Silver's essay posits that the governing mission of humanity is to reproduce itself, but that Alberta has lost its way to instead pursue “selfish and hedonistic goals.”

The solution, she argues, is to acknowledge that “women are not exactly equal to men.”

Society, she writes, should celebrate and embrace the birthing role of women and stop pushing them to put off prime procreation years while they “break into careers that men traditionally dominate.”

She says the idea that Alberta can put off procreation and instead “import foreigners to replace ourselves … is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”

Opposition NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi said Armstrong-Homeniuk owes the public a full explanation of how this view was not condemned but honoured and rewarded.

“Sexism, racism, hate — this is not what any government should be celebrating, yet increasingly these views are becoming acceptable in this UCP government, and even now applauded,” Pancholi told reporters.

Pancholi zeroed in on the “cultural suicide” reference, likening it to 1930s Nazi Germany urging women to be baby vessels to propagate the Aryan race.

“This is an absolutely reprehensible claim. It is a nod to the racist replacement theory that drives white nationalist hate,” she said.

The contest was run through the legislative assembly office, which is headed up by Speaker Nathan Cooper.

Cooper’s office, in a statement, said the contest was conceived and administered by Armstrong-Homeniuk in her role as regional chair of the Commonwealth Women’s Parliamentarians group.

“Neither the Speaker’s office nor the legislative assembly office were involved with the selection of the essays in any capacity, including who was on the MLA panel judging the contest,” said the statement.

“As soon as the content of the third-place winner was brought to the Speaker’s attention, he immediately made the decision for the content to be removed.

“The content is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of the Speaker or the legislative assembly office.”

Three candidates in the race to replace Premier Jason Kenney as party leader and premier also took to Twitter to criticize the award.

“It’s a disgrace that an essay saying women are not equal to men won an award sponsored by government. Women, and their contributions, are equally valuable and amazing whether we are moms or not. Can’t believe this needs to be said,” wrote Rebecca Schulz.

Rajan Sawhney followed up, writing, “Agree, Rebecca. Same goes for the comments about 'foreigners.' Alberta is the proud home of people from all over the world — from Ukraine, to the Philippines, and everywhere in between.”

Leela Aheer said, “Well, I read 1st and 2nd place (essays). Those were great! I’m not sure how the 3rd essay elevates women."

Lise Gotell, a women’s and gender studies professor at the University of Alberta, said the essay perpetuates an essentialist, sexist and racist point of view stemming from the long discredited and outdated concept that a women’s role is to reproduce as a bulwark against immigration.

“The fact that it was chosen says a great deal about the views on appropriate gender roles being advanced by this government,” said Gotell in an interview.

“This essay reads like something that quite frankly could’ve been written in the 19th century.”

— With files from Angela Amato in Edmonton

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 9, 2022.

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It’s a free country and people say all kinds of things, right or wrong, and believe all sorts of stuff, good and bad. The idea that women should have children is not, per se, offensive, but the third-place winner, an S. Silver, rationalized this opinion in racist and sexist terms—which is also “her” right (condemnation of the screed includes doubts about the actual gender identity of the writer based on writing form and topics), but it was most inappropriate in a few ways.

The dry legality is that the essay was presented on the website of the Speaker of the Alberta Legislative Assembly which is supposed to be an assiduously nonpartisan office. The essay is so SoCon—indeed, the extreme right of SoCondom—that it can’t be other than partisan and, therefore, a most inappropriate association with the office.

Had the contest included judges from all parties in the Assembly—as it should have—, the offending essay would surely not have been given an award. It was plainly included on the ‘podium’ for partisan reasons alone. And since Leela Aheer, a former UCP cabinet minister of the very ministry that oversaw the essay contest, wasn’t apprised of the judging, either, it’s also plain that the partisan tactic involves not a contest between separate political parties but, rather, is aimed squarely at Alberta’s most important campaign at hand: the leadership race to replace party founder Jason Kenney—which includes Ms Aheer herself: she was demoted from cabinet last year for criticizing Kenney. This essay bomb was a signal flare shot by the UCP’s SoCon faction to which Ms Aheer does not belong for, as she said, obvious reasons, those including the facts that she is a professional woman equal to every man, not a baby machine subservient to any man, and that she comes from a visible ethnic minority of more recent immigration than Europeans. Unsurprisingly she took exception to the essay’s reference to foreign replacement and cultural suicide allegedly resulting.

The third question is about how this could possibly happen. Who is minding the store while the governing party is preoccupied with this very divisive and existential leadership contest? There are over seven months until the next scheduled election. Good thing the bureaucracy can steer government to a large extent because the UCP hardy appears capable of steering itself. Still, a province without an active government is vulnerable to unforeseen events.

In this fix, it’s very difficult to demand the resignation of the associate minister responsible for awarding the essay or to refill her office: the party is in a state of internal warfare until at least October (when a new leader will be announced) —and likely onward to the general election which, by statute, must be held between March and May. Two and a half months until the first Rubicon and about twice that long afterwards.

The irony is that if the essay was intended as some sort of supportive virtue signal to the extremist faction—currently led by former Wildrose Party leader and ProgCon turncoat Danielle Smith—or even as an emergency flare from the SoCon subfaction of the UCP far-right —it will likely have the opposite effect desired by way of lumbering the Smith faction, the party, and the government with yet another millstone.

Awarding that essay was a dumb, partisan attempt to aid the far-right faction of the UCP. It was taken down almost immediately after being posted—that is, as soon as alert Loyal Opposition (NDP) MLAs spotted it and sent it viralling into cyberspace forever more—one more bit of evidence that suggests not only did the associate minister responsible take steps to exclude judges who would have properly disqualified the essay, she let it stand only for long enough to be read before taking it down and taking a couple stabs at apologizing for it. The double irony is that it succeeded in getting noticed—but also by rivals who now find it handy ammo to return fire upon an party already riddled with self-inflicted wounds.

"The idea that woman SHOULD have children is not, per se, offensive?"
Only a man would say that I would suggest because it very much IS, per se, offensive to women at this point, particularly in bible belt Alberta. Does any other province have a "PAPA" party?!
This contest debacle is the usual trademark conservative bozo eruption where we all pretend that many socons aren't actually religious zealots including Kenney himself who was a straight-up anti-abortion activist in his student days.
Let's face it, these bozos haven't even accepted homosexuality as a valid thing yet, and since they follow the Republican playbook where gay marriage is now threatened along with Roe V. Wade, these guys are hiding in plain sight while the pretense continues. They've gotten away with this charade for a long time now, ever since the Reform party first appeared to drag us all backwards, and it's been depressingly effective. With any real criticism of religion still generally unacceptable, the believers are making out like bandits. Look who's in charge both here and in the United States, now verging on theocracy, but yeah, religion is JUST fine, truly sacrosanct, even while democracy is NOT.

In fact, the idea was presented as a woman’s, the reputed author of the third-place essay. Many of the women I know feel or felt they should have children. It is rarer, but these days also probably impolitic to say that fewer men feel they should bear children too.

So the idea is not the purview of “only a man”—in fact, quite the opposite.

But the origin of the presentation has been challenged by many commenters: to show that this opinion indeed came from a woman. I find the tone and meter of the essay to be too crafted by half, so my question would be whether this “S. Silver” is a real person, man or woman, or the work of (a)professional propagandist(s) —male or female.

All in all, this is a small thing that merely confirms what we already know about the UCP and its problems. We hope it will add, incrementally at least, to the list of reasons why any eligible Alberta voter should NOT cast for cher riding’s UCP candidate.

I don't think this is a small thing because it espouses UCP views towards women which are shockingly traditionalist, based as they are on religion, which is problematic itself in subverting modernity and women generally, not to mention reality, but the idea of bothering to insert this essay as propaganda at this level is what I find striking. It's so tactical and avidly so.
It reminds me, I keep reading articles about how the Republicans have gained such a strong foothold that defies all reason by just working diligently at local levels, getting on school boards and municipal councils, and then moving up to the state, but gunning (pun intended) always for the Supreme Court, which they have now also, horrifyingly, won.
Jane Mayer has an article in the New Yorker this week about gerrymandering having reached a whole new level with digital capabilities, and piggybacking on the excessive religiosity of Americans to the extent that, despite their extreme ideas being offside with the majority of Americans, and therefore antithetical to the ideal of democracy, they are now in charge. Because no one ever talks about the obvious dangers of giving the magical thinking of religion (read the first "big lie") full sway because it's not socially acceptable, and because in the States it seems almost EVERYONE is religious, including most of the Democrats, these nutbars have taken over by simply hiding in plain sight. Harper was the first PM to say "God bless Canada."

Reading this story makes me glad to be long gone from Alberta. The fact that the essay ever won a prize in a supposedly advanced society in 2022 for distinctly 18th Century views where women were considered legal baby-making chattel under state, church and patriarchal rule makes me wonder if some officials in government believe they are operating a time machine in only one direction: reverse.