https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2022/08/12/heres-an-essay-that-alberta-mlas-passed-over-before-rewarding-a-sexist-racist-entry.html

EDMONTON—Emelia Earhart wasn’t a winner in Alberta’s essay contest centred on women and politics, but she says she feels like one anyway.

Earhart’s essay was, it turns out, one of just five submitted to the Her Vision contest, led by Alberta’s associate minister for the status of women, Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk.

But it wasn’t picked for a prize.

Third place, meanwhile, went to a sexist, racist essay that said women are “not exactly equal to men.” It went on to opine about Albertans being replaced by foreigners, and lauded women’s ability to give birth. It made international headlines and sparked a wave of criticism over how such an essay could have been chosen.

Earhart, a 23-year-old who works with people with special needs in Lethbridge, Alta., has since made her essay public. She’s had lots of supportive people reaching out — and even monetary offers in the form of gift cards.

“It’s lucky that I did lose the contest so that I could post it,” she told the Star.

She’s asking people offering to send her money to instead donate in their local communities. Earhart said it would be more in the spirit of her submitted essay (posted below), which argued for inclusion, upholding society’s most vulnerable and unity.

The fallout from the essay scandal this week has been fierce. The Alberta NDP has called on the associate minister to resign her post, along with the other MLA on the judging panel, Jackie Lovely, who serves as the parliamentary secretary for the status of women.

Both politicians have apologized for their roles in selecting the essay.

The essay in question, which was scrubbed from the web this week, said Alberta women should give birth to more babies or risk “cultural suicide.”

“While it is sadly popular nowadays to think that the world would be better off without humans,” a cached version of the essay reads, “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.”

Women’s “biological reality” is also under attack from a “present day delusion,” the essay continues.

“Women are not exactly equal to men,” it says. “To try to promote that women break into careers that men traditionally dominate is not only misguided, but it is harmful.”

Earhart is nuanced in her take on the scandal. While she called the thinking put forward by the third-place winner “terrible,” she also said she believes all women should be able to voice their opinions, as disagreeable as they may be.

“It’s just kind of a dangerous or concerning way to put your opinion out,” Earhart said. “But I do believe that all of the people who submitted essays are entitled to their opinion, and I don’t think it’s wrong, necessarily, that those essays were chosen.”

People grow out of opinions, she said, after pointing out that the contest was open to submissions from people as young as 17. If she had a chance to speak to the writer of the essay, Earhart said she’d seek to understand why they held those beliefs.

“I would rather have a conversation where they want to understand where I’m coming from and where I want to understand where they’re coming from.”

Earhart also pushed back on calls for the two UCP MLAs to resign their posts.

“I think it’s much more helpful for somebody to admit that what they’ve done is wrong or admit that something is off and then change their behaviour,” she said. “It gives a lot more hope than just somebody resigning.”

Earhart said she didn’t expect her essay to win because she argued for government intervention to help protect society’s most vulnerable — not a tactic she said she thought this United Conservative government would take.

In the essay, Earhart also criticized the health-care system for being “purely reactionary” and said Alberta is a place where scores of people die in the cold or from opioid overdoses.

“In the future, I see an Alberta that understands the balance of rights and responsibilities and seeks to care for those who are systematically underprivileged,” she wrote in her essay, submitted in February.

The essays were entered as part of the Her Vision competition, which was a partnership between the Legislative Assembly and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Canadian Region, of which Armstrong-Homeniuk was the Alberta representative.

It invited young women between the ages of 17 and 25 to write a short essay describing their “unique vision” for the province and what they would do if they were elected.

CBC News reported Thursday that the contest had only received five submissions. A spokesperson for the associate minister has not responded to two requests for comment submitted by the Star this week.

On Friday, Alberta’s former minister for the status of women, Whitney Issik, took questions from the media on the scandal during an unrelated press conference, and said she became aware of the contest after it had already launched.

“Personally, I do not hold any of the beliefs that were expressed in that essay and at the end of the day, it’s been said by the participants on choosing the essay, that a mistake was made,” she said.

Issik was asked if she thought the two MLAs should resign their roles.

“The two women … have both said unequivocally that it was an error and they have apologized, and to me, that’s the end of it,” she said.

Here is Earhart’s full essay:

Alberta is breaking, but we can come back together. It’s up to my generation — young activists, people coming of age in a highly politicized world, and a generation with more access to information than any generation before us — to bring us back together. I will see my generation unite where previous generations have been polarized — holding a “person-first” perspective on each issue. Whether someone is a drug user or a premier, they deserve access to the same quality of life, health care, food, and housing. Communities thrive when each person in the community is properly cared for.

This ideal is not the Alberta I live in. I live in an Alberta where the opioid crisis has been killing thousands of citizens, and where countless people lose their lives to the cold every winter. I live in an Alberta where the health-care system has been so overloaded for so many years that the opioid crisis and frostbitten people with no place to go land on the bottom of the priority list.

I live in an Alberta where our health-care system is purely reactionary, with very few preventative protocols. In the future, I see Alberta leading the way in preventative health care in Canada. I see us breaking away from the “work until you drop” culture and moving toward a healthy culture of work-life balance. The first step in becoming a truly healthy community is caring for the members of that community, and currently, the members of the community of Alberta are not being cared for properly.

The freedoms we have in Alberta come with responsibilities. You cannot freely drive a vehicle without also taking responsibility for keeping your licence, registration, and insurance up-to-date. In the future, I see an Alberta that understands the balance of rights and responsibilities and seeks to care for those who are systemically underprivileged. To care for those in need, Alberta needs to lead the way in taxing the wealthy and funding social programs 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. We are hardworking, free people, and I would be honoured to be part of a province that values its people, no matter who they are or what they do. I would be honoured to be part of a province where no one froze to death, no one died of an overdose, and no one had to choose between rent and groceries.

This is an Alberta we can have, and an Alberta I can see happening in my lifetime. We need to put in the initial grunt work and financial support, so we and our children can live in a world without the threat of poverty, death, addiction, or financial ruin. We deserve this, and we can have this. Alberta is in for a future of unity, freedom, and success for every citizen.

Kieran Leavitt is an Edmonton-based political reporter for the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @kieranleavitt