Tara Brinston (left)and Kandace Hagen kept in touch with one another throughout the abortion controversy. (Denis Calnan/CBC)

The co-winners of a contest encouraging youth leadership say the event was a success despite a controversy surrounding abortion.

Kandace Hagen of P.E.I. and Tara Brinston of New Brunswick were announced on Monday as co-winners of the Active-8 competition.

The program celebrates youth leadership in Atlantic Canada, nominating eight ambassadors who have made a difference in their community, and asking people to pledge to do a good deed in support of one of them. Whoever earns the most pledges wins $1,000.

Controversy hit the campaign this year when Hagen was made an ambassador due to her role in campaigning for access to abortion on P.E.I. The Island is the only province in Canada where legal abortions are not performed. Anti-abortion activists began to campaign against her, encouraging people to pledge for Brinston, Hagen's closest competitor.

Supporting each other

The attention was unwelcome for both women.

"To see both of our images used to try and create a level of separation and controversy between the two of us, especially two women who have been very strong with in their communities and who get along quite well actually, neither of us wanted to benefit from that," said Hagen.

Brinston, who works for the rights of people with disabilities in New Brunswick, said the two kept in touch throughout the competition.

"We certainly started to self-Google and share articles," she said.

"It's interesting when you Google yourself what you will find, and we made light of that a few times and we sort of swapped some articles that we would find and try to keep it light."

The controversy drew a lot of attention. There were an unusually high number of pledges, delaying the announcement of a winner, which was supposed to be made on March 2.

"We just thought it was really unfortunate," said Hagen, "but with the look of the pledges and how everything turned out I would still definitely consider the campaign to have been a huge success."

The two winners will split the $1,000 prize.