What were they thinking?
If Alberta’s United Conservative Party were a normal Canadian political party, it wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad idea for someone to have the bright idea of asking young women between the ages of 17 and 25 to enter a contest in which there were asked to “imagine how you could strengthen your community and bring about change with a career in politics” in 500 words or less.
But seeing as the UCP is a party with a strong social conservative base that must soon contest a general election that will be decided in Calgary, a large Canadian city that is not necessarily all that enamoured of social conservative nostrums, it’s odd that no-one in the UCP strategic brain trust saw the danger in such a scheme.
There was fury in the land last night after the three winning short essays in the Her Vision Inspires contest were published on the Legislative Assembly’s website and the third-place winner turned out to be a screed variously described as misogynistic, sexist, racist, homophobic, fascist, and transphobic, to mention just a few critiques.
New Democrat Janis Irwin, MLA for Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood and the Opposition party’s critic for women’s and LGBTQ2S+ issues, seems to have been among the first to spot it. No sooner did she tweet about it with screenshots than all three winning “essays” were ripped down from the Legislature’s website.
Too late, unfortunately for the UCP, thanks to the Wayback Machine and the magic of screenshots.
The bronze medal winner, as it were – actually, the third-place prize was a $200 gift certificate for the Legislature’s gift shop – began like this, “Women have a unique strength: our ability to give birth.”
I imagine most readers will see where this is headed from here, and I’m not going to spend any time attacking the author, who presumably is a young person who wrote what she sincerely believed.
The real questions are for her elders, the ones who came up with this brilliant idea, picked a piece that was guaranteed to provoke outrage as a winner, and presumably are quite prepared to let the young author cope with what follows on her own.
Passages like the suggestion “it is sadly popular nowadays to think that the world would be better off without humans, or that Albertan children are unnecessary as we can import foreigners to replace ourselves, this is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide,” evoked comparisons to so-called white replacement theory.
To write that “to try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful,” was guaranteed to provoke anger. Anyone with an ounce of sense should have been able to see that.
The author’s call to reward fecund female citizens with medals for producing two or more babies, prompted comparisons to the Cross of Honour of the German Mother, an idea from that period of German history so dark that we’re not allowed to mention in Alberta political commentary.
You can read all three essays for yourself if you wish here.
The contest idea appears partly to have been the brainchild of Associate Status of Women Minister Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, the UCP MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, acting as as Alberta’s representative to the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians’ Canadian chapter. The judges were a “panel of female members of the Legislative Assembly,” according to a page published in February when the contest was announced. That page has now disappeared.
No NDP members knew anything about the controversial winning essay until it appeared online last night. Former UCP status of women minister Leela Aheer, fired from cabinet last summer and now a candidate to lead the party, said in a tweet that she was not included “for obvious reasons.”
In reaction to media coverage, Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk published a defensive statement saying, predictably, that “the essay contest was intended to reflect a broad range of opinions from young Alberta women” and that “giving women of all ages a voice is something I will always stand up for.”
However, she also said “the essay in question should not have been chosen,” a statement at variance with the tone of the rest of her response and an interesting observation for a member of cabinet who was presumably overseeing the project.
This afternoon, embarrassingly, media coverage was starting to show up in the United States, and it is likely to circle the globe by the morrow.
Later this afternoon, Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk published a second statement on social media that said in part, “It’s clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that. 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.” (Emphasis added.)
So, while we still don’t know who the judges were, we do know that one of the judges didn’t know what the judges decided.
Also shockingly inattentive were the officials of the Legislature Office.
Speaker Nathan Cooper told media that even though the essay somehow got published on his office’s website, he found its contents “abhorrent” and said that as soon as it was brought to his attention (by Ms. Irwin’s tweet?) he had it removed.
So who is running the Alberta government now, anyway?
We all know Alberta’s governing party is so busy searching for a replacement for Premier Jason Kenney it has trouble doing its job. But since it will be October before the next leader of the UCP will be chosen, perhaps the party should assign someone to mind the store in the meantime.
It seems likely that Mr. Kenney, who is well known for his micromanagement skills, might have time available for such a role.
If he’s not interested, perhaps Ms. Irwin from Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition could take it on for the sake of the province. She seems to be paying attention!