Alberta’s associate minister for the status of women no longer represents the province at the Canadian division of the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians and is facing Opposition calls to resign from cabinet, after serving as the head judge in an essay contest that awarded a prize to a submission accused of misogyny and racism.
The CWP, an organization that envisions women as equal partners in legislatures and parliaments, lists Alberta’s seat on the national steering committee as vacant on its website. Earlier this week, it was occupied by United Conservative Party MLA Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk; it is unclear whether she resigned or was expelled.
The Opposition New Democrats on Thursday called for Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk and Jackie Lovely, the parliamentary secretary for the status of women, to resign from their cabinet posts. Ms. Lovely on Wednesday had confirmed that she was the only other MLA on the judging panel.
In her capacity as Alberta’s representative for the CWP, Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk in February launched the province’s Her Vision Inspires contest, where women entrants aged 17-25 were to explain in 500-word entries how they would better society. The submission under scrutiny, which won third place, argued that “our community, culture, and species” are damaged when women pursue careers traditionally dominated by men and equated immigration to “cultural suicide.” The controversy erupted Monday evening when NDP MLA Janis Irwin highlighted the essay on social media.
The CWP, in a statement, referred questions to Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk. Her spokesperson, Savannah Johannsen, said in a statement Thursday that the cabinet minister was appointed to the CWP in her role as an MLA.
“The Minister intended to step down from the CWP role when she was appointed Associate Minister and was in the process of transitioning out,” the statement said. It did not clarify whether the MLA, who was promoted to cabinet in June, left voluntarily. It also did not address questions about calls for cabinet resignations.
Premier Jason Kenney’s office did not respond to questions about Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk’s future in cabinet. The government has also not explained how the essay, which also proposed financial rewards for reproducing and medals for families with multiple children, won a prize.
Rakhi Pancholi, the NDP children’s services critic, said the essay being awarded and the contest’s fallout demonstrate that Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk and Ms. Lovely are unfit for their roles.
“They have both displayed a horrendous lack of good judgment and an inability to take seriously the work required to advance and promote interests of women in this province,” Ms. Pancholi told reporters on Thursday at a press conference in Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk’s riding.
Ms. Pancholi said either the two judges were “too lazy and distracted” to read the short essays themselves and the “UCP have created a culture where political staff believed endorsing an essay that is misogynistic and racist would please their bosses,” or the MLAs read the essay and endorsed its views.
“In either of these two situations, these two MLAs are not fit to govern or to be anywhere near the status of women ministry,” Ms. Pancholi said in front of the Fort Saskatchewan Community Hospital, where obstetrical services have been suspended between Aug. 6 and 21 because of a staff shortage.
Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk had previously issued two statements on Tuesday. The first said the essay should not have been selected. In the second, which indicated that her UCP colleagues expressed concern over the essay winning an award, she said the “process failed” and apologized for her “role in that.” She said it was a “failure” on her part, as head of the judging panel, that the essay received recognition.
The Premier’s office issued a statement on Wednesday, saying Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk’s comments are the official position of the government.
Ms. Lovely, had also confirmed in a statement that she was involved in the essay contest’s adjudication process with Ms. Armstrong-Homeniuk.
“I regret that this essay was chosen and I apologize for my role in that. As a single mother who has pursued a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated careers, I deeply understand the strength and ability of women,” Ms. Lovely said.
“Also, as a former [English as a second language] teacher who hosted 56 international students, I also value and appreciate the role of newcomers in our province, and will continue working to remove barriers to equity and prosperity for all,” she added.
Ms. Lovely did not return messages seeking further detail.
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