Manitoba PC campaign co-chair Candice Bergen says young people 'brainwashed' at school in leaked recording

A co-chair of the Manitoba PC’s election campaign is heard saying that young people have been “brainwashed” at universities and schools in a leaked recording from a private event on Wednesday.

Bergen was speaking to 100 young PC supporters at Manitoba legislature on Wednesday

A woman is pictured speaking in the House of Commons.
Co-chair of the Manitoba PC's election campaign and former MP, Candice Bergen, is seen in a Feb. 2022 file photo. Bergen faced backlash from the Manitoba NDP on Thursday, after she was heard saying that many young people have been 'brainwashed' at school in a leaked audio recording from a private event. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

A leaked recording of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative's election campaign co-chair saying many young people have been "brainwashed" at universities and schools has the NDP questioning the government's views on public education.

In the 78-second clip, former MP Candice Bergen is heard speaking to a group of 100 young PC supporters at a private event at the legislature on Wednesday evening.

Bergen shared her excitement about seeing youth in politics, but said many young people are disengaged and entitled.

"They think they don't need to do anything. They think whatever they will do won't matter anyway," Bergen is heard saying in the recording.

"Many — not you — but many young people have been brainwashed, frankly, whether it's at university or even as children at school. It's a challenge."

Bergen represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar from 2008 to 2023, and served as the federal interim Conservative leader in 2022. She resigned her seat in the House of Commons last February and signed on to help lead the Manitoba PC's election campaign in March.

In her speech on Wednesday, Bergen thanked the young PC supporters at the event for getting involved in politics, saying their participation was encouraging.

However, the NDP did not like the suggestion that youth are brainwashed.

"To me, this is an attack on our public school system, it's an attack on educators and we all need to be extremely concerned about this," Lisa Naylor, NDP MLA and deputy caucus chair, told reporters outside the legislative chamber on Thursday.

"I want to be very clear that educators do not brainwash our children, they teach them."

A woman is shown speaking to the press.
Lisa Naylor, NDP MLA and deputy caucus chair, said Bergen's comments are an attack on Manitoba's public school system. (CBC)

Naylor said she did not have a recording of Bergen's entire speech, but added that the context of her remarks "really shouldn't matter."

In a statement to CBC News, Bergen did not address her comments, but said the leaked recording omits a moment in her speech where she commended all young people who get involved in politics regardless of their political affiliations.

"It's no surprise that the NDP would cut and paste a positive and inspiring discussion I had with engaged youth," the statement said.

"Many young people are discouraged from being openly political in a multitude of settings — and I commend young, service-driven people for their willingness to stand up for what they believe, even when they may receive negativity from their peers."

Premier Heather Stefanson attended Wednesday's private event with several PC MLAs. Naylor called for the premier to condemn Bergen's remarks during Thursday's question period.

Minister of Environment and Climate Kevin Klein responded to Naylor by dismissing the accusation as "election propaganda."

"We will not tolerate dirty politics," he said.

Comments 'concerning'

Nello Altomare, NDP MLA for Transcona, said Bergen's comments show disrespect for Manitoba educators and young people.

"It's concerning. What will this PC government do to public education if this is what they say behind closed doors?" Altomare asked.

Premier Heather Stefanson did not speak to reporters following Thursday's question period.

With files from Ian Froese