CALGARY - An Alberta government backbencher is floating the idea of the province holding an international beauty pageant to pull in tourism dollars from around the world along with tiaras, high heels and sparkly gowns.

Carl Benito, an Edmonton member of the legislature, first suggested the idea at a committee meeting last month.

The idea has prompted women's rights advocates to say they're ready for a fight if he takes it any further.

"The international beauty pageant is gaining popularity all over the world...." Benito told Tourism Minister Cindy Ady at the meeting.

"Is this within the radar of your ministry, or any plans?"

Ady didn't dismiss the idea, but said more work would be needed to figure out whether such an event would actually draw tourists.

Dorothy McKenna, executive director of the Lethbridge-based group Womanspace, said she's horrified the Progressive Conservative government would even consider such an event.

Taxpayer dollars should go to making sure women in need are supported and that Alberta's known for the right things, she said.

"I really don't think that what we want them doing is promoting the idea that a women's worth or value should be based on her looks," she said.

"If they want to make things better for women, do something to make women's economic situation better and forget this ridiculous idea."

Cressida Heyes, a women's studies professor at the University of Alberta, agreed that many people consider beauty pageants an outdated form of entertainment that governments should stay away from.

"I just feel surely we're past the point where we have to judge a women's worth by looking at her in a swimsuit."

Benito did not respond to repeated calls for comment. But he told the Edmonton Sun earlier this week that beauty pageants can generate "big-time" tourism dollars and that he would talk to people involved with such events and encourage them to make a presentation to Ady.

Those with experience in beauty pageants argue it's a woman's choice to take part and that the competitions are a perfectly acceptable way to attract people to the province.

"It's a very good way to introduce your country to about 80 to 100 beauty queens from around the world so they can take the same message back and talk about how it was great being in Canada," said Sonia Ahmed, who founded the Toronto-based Miss Pakistan World.

"Just like the Olympics, it's the same concept."

Ahmed argues that her past gives her perspective on how a beauty pageant can actually be an expression of women's freedom and choice.

"We should look at pageants this way, especially here in North America. Women here can exercise their right to take part in beauty pageants," she said.

"In Pakistan or Afghanistan, if you take part in beauty pageants you may have your head cut off."

The idea still might be a tough sell for many women in Alberta.

Liberal politician Laurie Blakeman said she'll oppose the idea if Benito brings it forward in the legislature.

"I think what's important is to be highlighting women's achievements that exist aside from their looks," she said.

"That's not what I want Alberta to be known for."

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