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 on Tuesday following a wave of social media condemnation.
Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, Alberta’s associate minister for the Status of Women, was the contest organizer and the head of the judging panel.
She initially distanced herself from the affair then, as criticism mounted, took responsibility without explaining which judges decided to award the prize and why.
“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 Tuesday morning.
“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.”
Later in the afternoon, Homeniuk issued an updated statement saying some of her caucus and cabinet colleagues had raised concerns.
“It’s clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that," she said.
“The selection of this particular essay and awarding it with third prize was a failure on my part as the head of the judging panel.”
Armstrong-Homeniuk had been the face of the contest since it was introduced in February.
The “Her Vision Inspires” contest challenged women ages 17 to 25 to describe their ideas for a better Alberta.
The contest advertised that essays would be judged by Armstrong-Homeniuk and other legislature members but did not specify the names of the other judges. The Opposition NDP said it did not participate.
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.”
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 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. It added that neither the Speaker's nor the legislative assembly office were involved in picking the essays "in any capacity."
“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," said the statement.
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: “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.
“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.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press