As what has come to be known as the Essaygate Scandal unfolded, no one in Alberta seems to have thought to demand the resignation of Ron Orr, minister of culture and status of women in the United Conservative Party Government.

Associate Status of Women Minister Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk (Photo: Fort Saskatchewan Today).

Why? 

Mr. Orr is the minister responsible for status of women issues, who by tradition and Parliamentary convention should resign if there is incompetence or impropriety within the department for which he has been given responsibility.

No one can deny the awarding of a prize in the Her Vision Inspires essay contest for young women to someone who included racist and anti-immigration themes while arguing that in the 21st Century women are better suited to bearing babies than challenging men for political office amounts to evidence of serious mismanagement of Mr. Orr’s portfolio. 

As things stand, we know little more about how this happened than we did when the controversial essay was posted on the Legislature’s website a week ago, then quickly yanked down. 

Associate Status of Women Minister Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk has said only five submissions were received for the contest, which was announced on the government’s website in February. 

Jackie Lovely, Parliamentary Secretary to the associate minister of status of women (Photo: Government of Alberta).

She admitted the “panel of female members of the Legislative Assembly” that was supposed to judge the essays of no more than 500 words by women aged between 17 and 25 on how they would “strengthen … community and bring about change with a career in politics” was made up of only herself and her Parliamentary Secretary, Camrose MLA Jackie Lovely. 

Unverified statements have been posted online saying more than five essays were submitted to the contest – although there have been no explanations offered about what might have become of them. 

Two essays that are said to have been submitted to the contest and won no prizes have been published online. Both are sharply critical of UCP policies. One is can be read here; the other here

There has been no comment from the government on why they were rejected and an offensive essay accepted, although one supposes the reasoning is obvious. 

We can infer from the way the brouhaha has unfolded that the contest, while inspired by the Canadian chapter of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians, was a vanity project managed by The Two Jackies without assistance of the professional civil service, which certainly would have done a better job of publicizing the contest and vetting entries. 

NDP Opposition MLA Rakhi Pancholi (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The NDP Opposition chose to demand the resignations of Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk and Ms. Lovely. 

“They have both displayed a horrendous lack of good judgment and an inability to take seriously the work required to advance and protect the interests of women in this province,” said NDP Children’s Services Critic Rakhi Pancholi, MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud.

Noting the lack of explanation about why the offensive third-prize essay was chosen, Ms. Pancholi said Thursday that the judges “were either too lazy and distracted to read a 500-word essay themselves or they read the essay and chose it because they endorsed the views it contained. 

“In either situation, these two MLAs are not fit to be anywhere near the Status of Women Ministry,” she stated. “They must step down immediately.”

Well it’s hard to argue with that – although both Premier Jason Kenney and Parks Minister Whitney Issik tried. 

Mr. Kenney claimed yesterday on his free Corus Radio soapbox that the controversy about “an essay contest no one’s ever heard of” only erupted because “it’s not a big news week.”

Parks Minister Whitey Issik (Photo: Facebook/Whitney Issik).

Ms. Issik, a former associate status of women minister, implied the problem had been created by the office of Speaker Nathan Cooper and chided reporters for asking about it on the grounds that both contest judges had already apologized for awarding the prize. (Notwithstanding a Postmedia headline to the contrary, the prize seems nevertheless not to have been withdrawn.)

This tells us that the government views neither the contest nor the prize as a very serious matter. 

Which brings us back to Mr. Orr, MLA for Lacombe-Ponoka and the former pastor of the Clive Baptist Church.

He was unexpectedly promoted to the portfolio in July 2021 – after Mr. Kenney fired Chestermere-Strathmore MLA Leela Aheer as minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women for criticizing his boozy mid-pandemic Sky Palace patio party. Ms. Aheer is now a candidate to lead the UCP.

It’s quite unclear why the minister of culture and status of women requires two layers of political bureaucracy between him and his ministry’s top civil servant, Deputy Minister Heather Caltagirone.

We do not know why the Civil Service was not involved in this work, which it clearly should have been. 

Former minister of culture, multiculturalism and status of women Leela Aheer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Given the low importance assigned by the UCP to culture and women’s issues, it’s hard to believe Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk’s and Ms. Lovely’s appointments were anything more that rewards for Kenney loyalists in the UCP Caucus. 

Albertans might think the optics of a man holding the status of women portfolio are not good, and they would be right. But the minister alone, whomever he or she may be, should surely be up to the task without requiring the assistance of an associate minister with a Parliamentary assistant!

Be that as it may, according to Parliamentary tradition and doctrine, the minister of a department is accountable to the House for the conduct of everyone in his department. By convention he must investigate every allegation of incompetence or impropriety in his department and take appropriate measures. 

If the incompetence or impropriety is significant, Westminster Parliamentary doctrine requires the minister’s resignation. 

Now, as has been said here before, this Parliamentary convention is honoured nowadays mostly in the breach. 

Nevertheless, we have not heard so much as a peep from Mr. Orr about the significant incompetence and impropriety in his ministry. 

At the very least, he must speak up and tell us what’s going on and what he proposes to do about it. 

Tradition, though, requires that he resign.

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25 Comments

  1. Ron Orr is the UCP MLA who managed to get his cabinet gig by tweeting something, something, something…Jason Kenney was chosen personally by Jesus…something, something…he is divine and Godly in his ways…something, something…promote me to the cabinet. And the rest, as they say, is just failing upwards.

    Given that Orr’s background and education is entirely Evangelical (He’s a product of the Taylor Seminary of Edmonton, which is about as hardcore Evangelical as you can get) I suspect that he thought the essays in question — but especially the third place winner — were the ideal examples of womenhood for Alberta to believe in. It’s revenge of the cradles, so start putting those buns in the oven, ladies. And make sure they’re white and christian, too.

    Since Evangelicals, based on the US experience, are inclined to bent to conspiracy beliefs, it would come as no surprise to me if Orr made sure that his theological finger was pressed on the scales for this contest. Further into the Evangelical mindset, back during my misguided RPC days, I encountered many Evangelicals who had no problem imbuing their partisanship with religion — their religion, of course. Being one of those people who actually believed in the notion of the separation of the church and the state, I was an outlier and they maybe sure I knew it every time they encountered. Apparently, I have a soul that I have allowed to become soiled, they would remind me. Discovering that I am destined for Hades for all of eternity came as something of a disappointment to me, because I had no idea how I earned this fate. Being someone who is cautious (AKA chickenshite) in the area of acquiring carnal knowledge, I felt letdown that I didn’t get to try any of the goodies on the way to my damnation. Just my luck.

    1. Once upon a time Christians actually believed in the values their founding philosopher preached — forgiveness, loving one’s fellow human being, turning the other cheek, and so on. And so in the 1920s and ‘30s we saw the rise of what became known as the “social gospel”, which sought to improve the socio-economic circumstances of the less fortunate among us. Some of the leading proponents of the social gospel in Canada were J S Wordsworth and erstwhile Baptist preacher Tommy Douglas — as well as Catholic priest Moses Coady out East — and it became one of the driving forces behind the formation of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), forerunner of today’s NDP.

      But some time in more recent years, many observant Christians, especially those from Evangelical denominations but also many Roman Catholics, began to turn rightward in their political leanings and began advocating what I might call the “anti-social gospel” of blaming the poor for being poor and abandoning forgiveness as a value. Dominionism and Christian reconstructionism became the religious right’s dominant philosophies.

      Canadian journalist Marci McDonald laid it all out in her excellent 2010 book, ‘The Armageddon Factor’. While it was written during the Harper era and some of the specific issues she discusses have been overtaken by events, the underlying thesis remains quite relevant today. It’s definitely worth a read. (Her description of a massive outbreak of car wrecks triggered by the Rapture pulling drivers out of their seats without warning is also quite hilarious).

  2. If there were actually only two judges here, then it is hard to pass the buck. It is even worse that both are MLAs.
    However, some of the media coverage has been quite confusing, referring to Ms. Lovely as the only other MLA on the judges panel, implying there may be other judges who were not MLA’s that were the problem. Perhaps that was just a way for those in the media friendly to the UCP to try help them out.

    In any event, it seems the the two MLA’s were not paying attention or actually agreed with thIS terrible essay. Either way it is not good. As Mr Orr was not on the judges panel, as far as we know, his responsibility here is Ministerial, not personal. Hwever, arguably he was not paying attention also.

    Well, I suppose if there was a big news story, it might have taken attention away from this mess, as Kenney argues, but wait a minute – isn’t there a huge ongoing news story about a former US president, search warrants, subpoenas and top secret records not being properly stored?

    This must be particularly embarrassing for Kenney as he was the one who was going to stop his MLAs from doing or saying stupid things. It is not a high note for him to end on.

    So, yeah if they had any integrity, there would be several resignations here, but of course that is the whole problem with this UCP gang of Ministers and MLAs. They don’t have any such integrity.

    Well I suppose this just adds to the long list of problematic ministers and MLAs Kenney’s successor will have to deal with. Whoever they are, they will have a lot of cleaning up to do. Most likely they will just ignore it all and try to sweep it under the carpet, much like Kenney is trying to do.

  3. This is yet another incident which gives proof that the UCP are unfit to govern. It’s not in the nature for the UCP MLAs to resign, after something of this nature has transpired. Had this been members of another political party that did this, those in the UCP camp would expect heads to roll. UCP MLAs have done other very serious things, and haven’t resigned. The UCP also has a very heavy government. It is laden with so many layers of associate ministers, bureaucrats, and other staff, that sure adds up in cost. Then people want to talk about the NDP’s government, while the UCP government has far more staff than any other provincial government in Alberta ever had. I can’t understand how Albertans can continue to support the UCP.

  4. Ron Orr has his job for a very simple reason, he is loyal to Jason Kenney and Kenney does not believe that this is an important issue. Orr is a small town pastor who believes that a Carbon Tax is worse than the death of up to Five Million Ukrainian people in the Holodomor. Expecting him to do the decent thing shows that we have learned nothing during the Kenney years. We shouldn’t expect decency while the UCP is in power.

  5. Another chapter in the “Oil Wives of Alberta.” Was it the oil smoke that so clouded their judgement? Will the Minister, who only answers to God on the terrace, dare to offend the oil wives? Can he risk being cast back to the outer darkness of the backbench? Can he face a future of going back to living off the avails of baby Jesus? Where oh where is the oil boom now? Pray for Jason’s babies. Stay tuned for more Oil Wives of Alberta
    https://youtu.be/u2L_0bDK6tY?t=59

  6. Thank you for posting links to the two losing essays, David. They were definitely worth a read.

    The second ‘here’ connected to someone who identified as Dr. Michelle Typoqueen. It really felt like it was just a (justified) critique of the UCP’s chauvinistic attitudes and deeds over the years, and didn’t really present any vision of the future. I expect Dr. Typoqueen would be happy to admit she was just using the contest as a soapbox to criticize the government, and didn’t expect her entry to be taken seriously. That said, it would be really interesting to meet S. Silver, the author of the third place entry to see if she (he?) intended to be taken seriously as well.

    The first ‘here’, however, links to someone identifying as Emelia Earhart. Ms. Earhart’s essay outlined a clear vision of what she would like to do if she entered politics, and its only ‘fault’ is that the vision it outlines (solve opioid problem and homelessness) doesn’t really align with the UCP priorities. It didn’t really strike me as critical of the UCP at all; it just expressed a different vision. I think the UCP ladies could have given that essay third prize without much fallout.

    This begs an even bigger question: What were the UCP thinking even getting involved with this contest? Speaking in generalities, young people tend to be more left wing than older people; women tend to be more sympathetic to left wing causes than men, and polls show support for the left wing NDP tends to increase with people’s education level. So, lets have a contest targeting young women with enough education to write a coherent 500 word essay. What could go wrong?

    1. Bob: Michelle didn’t write the essay, she re-posted it. I believe from the context of several of her tweets that she is an acquaintance of the author. It was not clear to me if Emelia was a pseudonym for the author or not. Sounded like it. As noted, there may or may not be other short pieces out there that were submitted and, for some reason or by happenstance, went missing. DJC

  7. As far as Ron Orr MLA ,history speaks volumes,Ron Orr has decimated Ponoka Alberta and surrounding communities and continues to ,all through prayer
    MLA Ron Orr speaks volumes on his chop shop ability with the help of God of course

  8. Why can’t some Alberta people see through this very low level dummy crap? It has bothered me for decades now. In fact it has actually caused me to leave the province. However, every time I return I still love it, but, not them.

    1. Pogo: you ask why Albertans cannot see through this crap. In common with most people who have to live in an authoritarian single party state, people simply tune out from the stupidity. Alberta has been this way since the Americans took over in 1947. Kenney is just the latest in a long line of illegitimate governments. We cannot even set our own royalty rates. Look what happened to Lougheed and later Stelmach when they tried.

  9. Maybe, just maybe, those politicos have decided that this whole adventure in misogyny and racism is far too trivial to inquire of their constituents some sort of feedback. Presumptively they have probably decided that those folks, who will vote for them anyway, should be ignored as per usual. After all, the bogey-man scare of rampaging “socialists” is usually enough without bringing up anything to do with equality of any sort,

  10. All this!

    Could this scandal and the bungling of it lead straight to the top floor and a certain known micro-manager? Were the cabinet underlings told who would win? Are the “winners” actually issues managers?

    It’s ridiculous that premier what’s-his-name tried to pass this scandal off as nothing more than a slow news week. That is doubling-down-gaslighting-extraordinaire, topped with a soupçon of sheer contempt. White women really should get back to breeding and bearing white babies instead of bothering their pretty little heads about stuff the men-folk are doing, and doing poorly, and not sorry about doing. Let the men do the blue jobs. There are no pink jobs.

    It’s ridiculous that Mr. Ron Orr (he/him) has said nothing and done nothing about this scandal in the wimmin-folk department that he, a man, runs. Surely he should say and do something. Where is he, anyways? Isn’t every day a slow news day in Clive, Alberta, population 715?

    Weak non-apologies, minimizing and buck-passing won’t make this go away, so the scandal enters its second week. Racist, sexist, white replacement theory views have no place in a modern democracy, and the youth should not be encouraged to write essays of this nature. The UCP government has shown us who they really are. We should believe them.

    Even the smaller parts of this lie don’t pass the sniff test. How can a cash prize be taken back after it was awarded?

    At least no one in the UCP swallowed a bee, and will have to swallow a spider to catch the bee, etc. All good in the Hymenoptera Department.

  11. My first, instinctive, response was, “Ron WHO?” Oh yeah, the guy who thought Jason Kenney was chosen by God to be Leader of Oilberduh.

    This probably explains why he’s kept his mouth shut and his face hidden. His current assignment is obviously make-work for a man with no useful talents or training. He’s probably isolated from his (political) ministry by the “two layers of political bureaucracy” because he’s a well-meaning incompetent who has no clue what to do or how to do it. Keeping him busy with harmless paperwork (while the two-woman team of bureaucrats do the real work) both prevents him mucking something up, and rewards him for his sycophantic loyalty to God’s Chosen Leader.

    The fact Mr. Orr is an invisible non-entity also explains why nobody’s bothered to demand his resignation.

    I confess I haven’t read the first- and second-place essays. Having just read #4 and 5 (thank you, DJC, for the links) I totally understand why they didn’t place. One is critical of UCP policies and attitudes; the other is savagely critical of UCP attitudes toward women. Both are correct.

    It’s no surprise the award for 3rd place hasn’t been withdrawn, either. Who’d want $200 worth of cheap bling from the Legislature gift shop? Better to ignore it and hope it goes away. Announcing the award’s been rescinded—and then not rescinding it—will be yet another tiny embarrassment for some UCP apparatchik.

    We can also guess why the “women should know their place (AKA ‘be fruitful and multiply’)” essay placed third. With only five entries, two were—presumably–deemed non-offensive, two openly offended UCP sensibilities, and one was just what somebody-or-other wanted. The intelligent thing to do was to announce, quietly, that there wasn’t enough interest to declare a winner, and here’s a consolation prize ($50 of cheap Legislature bling) for everyone who entered. But, no. It’s a contest, it’s gotta have a winner. So the “essay contest no one’s ever heard of” becomes yet another source of embarrassment and resentment for the UCP. Congratulations, guys. Well done.

    1. David: As you correctly note, the ministry remains the the Ministry of Culture and Status of Women; the deputy minister (the department’s senior civil servant) remains responsible for the status of women portfolio; Rev. Orr remains the minister responsible for the department; Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk is listed in the department’s organizational chart as being subordinate to Rev. Orr, as befits a person with the title of associate minister; there is no reference in Province of Alberta’s the list of Orders in Council that would suggest Rev. Orr’s status has changed. The simplest and most reasonable explanation is that while Rev. Orr’s status as minister of culture and status of women had not changed, the UCP has taken to referring to him only as minister of culture because it is embarrassing to have a man in a role that ought to be filled by a woman. This does not change the fact that as the responsible minister, under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, Rev. Orr should resign. DJC

      1. agree. But now that we have a Minister who has been found to have attempted to interfere with the administration of justice, who did not resign, I think it is safe to say that the doctrine of ministerial responsibility no longer exists in Alberta.

  12. I wonder if Mr. Orr might have decided to give the third prize to S. Silver’s essay, and now he won’t take responsibility for it. The ideas expressed in the essay would seem to be a decent fit for someone like Mr. Orr, and he has an associate minister and a Parliamentary Secretary he can direct to take the fall for it.

    Ten years ago I would have thought an idea like that was preposterous, but now that Jason Kenney has shown what kind of shenanigans are possible I am more open minded to that kind of thing.

  13. One day, perhaps one day soon, the UCP will regret being so chuffed about thumbing its nose at the ministry for the status of women by appointing a hopelessly anachronistic evangelist as its minister and a regular hierarchy of female deputies, assistants, associates and, in good Biblical form, judges to reinforce the UCP’s policy attitude about women’s social and political status—that is, patriarchy.

    If it was a mistake, it was a bad one. If it was on purpose—which the essay contest tends to confirm—it was a worse one.

    That might be taken from two points of view, the first being the actual status of women in modern society from which the hyper-sexist, -racist, and -partisan third-place contest winner can only be regarded with appalled astonishment. The second POV belongs to the UCP itself which has sputtered and fumbled in response to what should never have become a controversy in the first place, which should have condemned the essay in question in stronger words and action, and which rather defends itself by demonstrating how much bravely self-salting self-inflicted wounds doesn’t hurt one little bit. How courageous!

    But, as much as the UCP tries to blow off this unconcealable boner of a bozo eruption —replete with fumaroles still a-reeking all about—the beleaguered freshman-failure at first its four years can’t be happy about this disturbance of the same sleeping giantess which is disturbing ostensibly triumphant anti-choice tRumpublicans: it’s as if they hadn’t noticed women have already secured the vote and the panoply of rights and freedoms accorded to all citizens. Indeed, women voters, particularly black women voters, disappointed tRumpublicanism only two years ago (see the state of Georgia, for example) and appear on a roll in Kansas GOP primaries in the wake of the overturning of Roe-v-Wade.

    The third-rate essay is rather a desperate invocation of patriarchy long suppressed by modern realities. It will probably hurt the UCP more than help it.

    And that’s a good thing.

    So is, from a counter-partisan POV, minister Orr’s rope-a-dope: the longer he stays in the ring, the more battered will the rookie governing party present to the half-female electorate which has a few more scores to settle now than it did before the stupid contest was hatched.

  14. Perhaps Ron, through prayer, can get this problem to disappear and regain his undoubted authority to be the arbiter of what constitutes “women’s issues” in Alberta.

    Unfortunately, all that involves is what kind of baking should be provided.

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