Alberta, according to Emelia Kazakawich, is breaking. The opioid crisis, she said, is killing thousands of citizens. People are dying in the cold. The health care system is overloaded and reactionary.
But Ms. Kazakawich, who is 23 and works with people with special needs, has hope for the future. She outlined her vision in a short-essay contest put on by Alberta’s Legislative Assembly. She did not expect to win – her essay is progressive, although not partisan – but she did not think she would lose to an entry that equated immigration to “cultural suicide,” or that promoted giving medals to families with multiple children, a policy that mirrors Hitler’s strategy in Germany.
Alberta’s government has been under fire for its Her Vision Inspires contest since Monday evening, when a NDP MLA drew attention to the third-place winner, which warned against using immigration “to replace ourselves,” echoing a white nationalist conspiracy known as the “great replacement.” Ms. Kazakawich posted her losing entry to Twitter on Thursday, revealing her aspirations for the province.
“Whether someone is a drug user or a premier, they deserve access to the same quality of life, health care, food and housing,” she wrote. Ms. Kazakawich provided The Globe and Mail with the confirmation receipt she received after entering the competition Feb. 10.
“To care for those in need, Alberta needs to lead the way in taxing the wealthy and funding social programmes such as women’s shelters, hospitals, pharmacare and supervised consumption sites. A province thrives when its people thrive, and Alberta needs to stop neglecting its people,” Ms. Kazakawich’s essay said.
The contest was spearheaded and judged by Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, now the associated minister for status of women. The parliamentary secretary for status of women, Jackie Lovely, was also a judge. Both have apologized but, despite daily questions, neither they nor the government have provided any explanation for how or why the third-place entry was chosen. The Opposition New Democrats have called for the two women to resign.
The third-place winner was in line for $200 worth of merchandise from the legislature’s gift shop. Ms. Kazakawich is using the attention she’s received to encourage people to donate to Wood’s Homes, a centre that provides services and shelter for youth experiencing mental illness.
Ms. Kazakawich defended the author who was awarded third-place, noting that person has the right to hold different opinions. At the same time, she thinks it is “scary” to promote ideas such as women and men are not equal.
“A woman is valuable not only for the ability to be a mother,” Ms. Kazakawich said in an interview. “There are lots of people who, their calling in life is to be a mother. And they are great mothers. But there are other women who don’t want to be mothers.”
Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk launched the contest in February, in her capacity as Alberta’s representative to the Canadian division of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP). The competition called on women between 17 and 25 to outline what they would do if they were legislators.
Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk was promoted to cabinet as associate minister in June. She issued a statement earlier this week explaining that the judging “process failed” without elaborating. Ms. Lovely later confirmed that she was the only other MLA on the judging panel and also apologized. Their offices have not responded to the NDP’s demands to resign, nor has Premier Jason Kenney’s office.
The government removed the essays from its website Monday night.
While the contest did not recognize Ms. Kazakawich’s work, she has received a wave of support after posting her entry online.
“I too believe in the Alberta you describe,” Paula Simons, a senator from Alberta, said on Twitter. “Even if I can’t award you any kind of official prize, I’d be happy to buy you a coffee and have a chat.”
Madame Premier, which sells clothing and merchandise promoting women in politics, offered Ms. Kazakawich a $200 gift card.
Janis Irwin, the NDP MLA who first drew attention to the winning essays, added: “Hey Emelia, your essay is great and so are you. I’m sorry you lost to that misogynistic, racist crap, but you need to know that you’ve given a whole lot of us hope.”
The CWP lists Alberta’s seat on the Canadian steering committee as vacant, a change that took place after the essay controversy erupted. It is unclear whether Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk resigned or was forced out. Savannah Johannsen, her spokeswoman, said on Thursday that the minister was already in the process of “transitioning” out of the role.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled Senator Paula Simons’s name.
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