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The Alberta Legislature building in Edmonton, 2019.CANDACE ELLIOTT/Reuters

Alberta’s legislature awarded a prize to an essay that equated immigration to “cultural suicide” and argued women are “not exactly equal” to men in a contest championed and judged by an MLA who is now the province’s associate minister for the status of women.

The competition, led by the United Conservative Party’s Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, was open to Alberta women 17 to 25. It encouraged entrants to outline their vision for the province and detail what they would do as members of the provincial legislature. When the contest was announced in February, a news release said Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk and a panel of female MLAs would serve as judges.

Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk issued two statements on Tuesday, at first saying only that the essay should not have been chosen, and then a follow-up where she took responsibility for its selection as a winner. Neither explained how that happened or said who else was on the judging panel.

The third-place essay, which focused on women’s ability to give birth, proposed rewarding Albertans for their “reproductive service” with cash and medals for those that have multiple children, echoing a policy from Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

“While 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,” the essay said, adding that the “first rule of health” for any population is to reproduce.

The top three entries in the contest, dubbed Her Vision Inspires, were posted to the legislative assembly website. It is unclear when the essays went online; they were taken down Monday evening after MLA Janis Irwin of the opposition New Democratic Party drew attention to the third-place entry.

The essay said “women are not exactly equal to men,” which its author described as a “biological reality” that was under attack. It also argued it is harmful to encourage women to enter traditionally male-dominated careers because it takes away from women’s role in the “preservation of our community, culture, and species.”

The third-place essayist received $200 in merchandise from the legislative gift shop, according to the contest rules. The winning entries were identified by their first initial and last name.

Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk announced the contest in her capacity as Alberta’s representative to the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians division in Canada. Premier Jason Kenney named the backbench MLA as the associate minister for the status of women in a June cabinet shuffle that filled vacancies created by those who entered the UCP leadership race.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk said the essay did not represent her views and should not have been chosen. Hours later, her office issued a second statement, noting some of her colleagues raised concerns with her about how the essay could win an award.

“I do not support rhetoric that in any way diminishes the importance and contributions of more than half of Alberta’s population,” the revised statement said. “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.”

No NDP MLAs were involved in judging, according to Rakhi Pancholi, the children’s services critic. The women in the UCP caucus did not respond to The Globe and Mail’s questions about whether they were involved, although three women in caucus running to replace Mr. Kenney commented on the controversy on Twitter.

“It’s a disgrace that an essay saying women are not equal to men won an award sponsored by government,” Rebecca Schulz, one of the UCP leadership hopefuls, wrote. “Women, and their contributions, are equally valuable and amazing whether we are moms or not.”

Ms. Schulz was not involved in the contest or on the judging committee, according to her spokeswoman Nicole Sparrow.

Rajan Sawhney, another leadership challenger, added: “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, who is also vying for the leadership, said the top two essays were “great” but she is unsure how the third “elevates” women.

Mr. Kenney’s office did not respond to questions about the contest and fallout.

The competition was put on by the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. The Legislative Assembly Office released a statement on behalf of Nathan Cooper, the Speaker, denouncing the third-place entry. “The content is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of the Speaker or the Legislative Assembly Office,” the statement said, noting the Speaker had the contest page removed immediately after he was informed of the third-place essay’s substance.

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