A woman who submitted an essay to Alberta’s ignominious “Her Vision Inspires” essay contest says she’s not necessarily looking for an apology for the results that critics have called racist, sexist, misogynist and fascist.
Emelia Kazakawich said she would rather see the current provincial government change its ways.
“I believe that a full apology comes with changed behaviour,” she told Global News. “There was an apology that wasn’t really an apology, which is pretty expected.
“But I think that the way that you back up an apology is by changing your behaviour and fixing what you broke.”
Kazakawich, who admitted her views do not necessarily line up with messaging from the United Conservative Party and Alberta government, submitted an essay highlighting issues in the province she would like to see addressed, including health care, the opioid crisis, housing and quality of life.
“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,” she wrote.
“I live in an Alberta where our health-care system is purely reactionary, with very few preventative protocols.”
The 23-year-old grew up in Lethbridge, watching the drug-poisoning crisis worsen through her teens and early adulthood.
“I used to work downtown and see lots of homeless people, lots of needles in the back alley, stuff like that. We’ve got homeless encampments all over the place here,” she said from her Lethbridge home.
Currently, Kazakawich works with people with disabilities.
“I’m very passionate about people being able to exist in a way that works for them rather than trying to exist against the powers that be trying to make them fit into just a little slot.”
The government has not answered repeated questions about the contest and how many entries were submitted. But a spokesperson told CBC there were five entries.
“I submitted one just mostly because I thought, ‘Well, somebody is going to read it, so I might as well say my piece, right?’”
It wasn’t until Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood MLA Janis Irwin posted a reaction to the province’s essay contest that the Kazakawich realized the essay she submitted six months earlier would have been reviewed.
She also took the time to read the winning entries.
“The third one, it was a little bit like it was mostly just concerning to see an essay that didn’t equate men and women as equals and valued women who are mothers higher than women who are not,” Kazakawich said.
“It’s kind of a concerning thing to see the current government endorse.”
The third-place essay, whose author is only identified as “S. Silver,” centred women’s value around “our ability to give birth.” It also spoke to the great replacement conspiracy theory, calling immigration policies “a sick mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”
Associate minister for the status of women Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, and Jackie Lovely, the department’s parliamentary secretary – the judges of the contest – apologized for the winning selections, which were published and removed from the legislature’s website earlier this week.
Environment and Parks Minister Whitney Issik, a former associate minister of the status of women, said she doesn’t hold any of the beliefs expressed in the third-place essay. And she said the two judges have apologized.
“At the end of the day, it’s been said by the participants choosing the essay that a mistake was made — an error was made — and they’ve apologized for it,” Issik said while at a news conference about an industrial pilot project in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., on Friday.
“To me, that’s the end of it.”
Kazakawich said she would love to talk with Silver, the third-place winner.
“I would love to hear her story and her perspective and why she believes those things,” the 23-year-old said, stressing the importance to approach conversations with the goal of understanding.
“I do think there’s room for both perspectives. I think that the problem comes when you believe that your perspective is the only right one.”
Kazakawich said the response to her publishing her essay on social media has been overwhelmingly positive, and she’s even been offered gifts. She encourages donating to community organizations instead.
“There’s not really anything that I’m looking to get from this, other than solidarity with other people who view a future Alberta the same way as I do. And letting other young women in Alberta know that they’re not by themselves when they believe these things.”
–with files from The Canadian Press