Tory campaign co-chair Bergen bemoans ‘brainwashed’ youth
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WINNIPEG — Progressive Conservative election campaign co-chair Candice Bergen lamented the entitlement and disengagement of young people, some of whom she described as brainwashed by the education system, while praising a group of young Tory supporters at the Manitoba legislature.
Bergen, the former member of Parliament for Portage-Lisgar and interim Conservative Party of Canada leader, made the remarks during a reception Wednesday evening.
A 78-second audio recording of Bergen’s speech was released Thursday by the Manitoba NDP.
“I want to thank you for being willing to be involved, especially in this day and age, when so many young people are either disengaged, they’re entitled, they think they don’t need to do anything, they think whatever they will do won’t matter anyway,” Bergen told the crowd, which included at least a half-dozen Tory MLAs and Premier Heather Stefanson.
“Some of you are nodding your head. Many — not you — but many young people have been brainwashed, frankly, whether it’s in university or even as children at school,” she said. “It’s a challenge.”
Bergen was appointed co-chair of the PC party’s 2023 election campaign in March. At the time, Stefanson said she would play an integral role and unite conservatives from all walks of life.
In the speech, the veteran politician said she was encouraged to see young people — whom she described as anyone under 40 — in political spaces and their passion and excitement was a huge asset during her career.
The PC party did not make Bergen available for an interview to answer questions about her remarks Thursday. Instead, the party provided a written statement.
“It’s no surprise that the NDP would cut and paste a positive and inspiring discussion I had with engaged youth,” Bergen said, adding she is co-chairing the campaign because she is extremely concerned with the prospect of NDP Leader Wab Kinew becoming premier.
The recording didn’t include the admiration she shared for “all young people” who get involved in politics, regardless of their partisan affiliation, Bergen 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,” Bergen’s statement continued.
The Manitoba NDP would not disclose how it obtained the recording, but said it only received part of Bergen’s remarks.
NDP MLA Lisa Naylor called on the premier to condemn Bergen’s message in question period Thursday. The Wolseley MLA described the statement as a despicable attack on young people, their families and educators.
“It shows what the PCs really think of public education in our province,” Naylor said in the chamber. “On this side of the house, we know Manitoba educators do not brainwash our kids. Will the premier be clear, who does she think is being brainwashed and by whom?”
Deputy premier Cliff Cullen responded, saying it was exciting to see 100 young people gather at the legislature to talk about governance and politics. He did not address the comments directly.
“These are young people that are committed to their communities. They’re clearly committed to our province, and we should be celebrating young people that are taking this initiative,” Cullen said.
“What is shocking is that the Opposition would say this is a bad thing.”
The NDP repeatedly challenged the Tories to state whether they agree the public and post-secondary education systems are brainwashing students.
Environment Minister Kevin Klein said the premier wants youth engaged in politics and called the Opposition attacks election propaganda.
“I myself have been a victim of mud-slinging, false statements and dirty politics by members of the NDP and by the leader of the Liberal party,” the rookie MLA for Kirkfield Park said.
“We will not tolerate dirty politics,” the former Winnipeg city councillor said to laughs and jeers from the Opposition benches.
“It’s time to be grown-ups, it is time for politicians to stand on what they know and what they think. Mud-slinging is nothing more than a form of insecurity and bullying.”
Rhetoric concerning the public school system and brainwashing has been used to justify discrimination against the LGBTTQ+ community in the past, St. Johns MLA Nahanni Fontaine said, calling on the PCs to denounce it.
Tory MLAs responded by levelling attacks at Kinew for decade-old homophobic and misogynistic social media posts and song lyrics, which he has publicly apologized for numerous times since 2014, and highlighted his comments from 2018 in favour of banning the song Baby It’s Cold Outside.
Stefanson did not address reporters after question period. A spokesman for her office said the premier would not comment on the matter Thursday.
A request for comment from the Tory youth group was not returned.
» Winnipeg Free Press