Kevin Vuong has enjoyed a run of quite incredible luck.
First, he was named the Liberal candidate for the downtown Toronto riding of Spadina-Fort York, which is nearly as good as being awarded a $185,000 salary just for existing. The riding has been Liberal since it was first contested in 2015, and Mr. Vuong’s nomination under the party’s banner was as close as one gets to a guarantee that he would soon be headed to Ottawa.
Then, there were reports that a 2019 sexual assault charge had been levied against him, which was dropped but never disclosed to the party – but the news came late in the campaign, less than a week before election day. By then, the Liberals had already lost another candidate over sexual misconduct allegations in another winnable riding, and so the party stalled by asking Mr. Vuong to “pause” his campaign. They officially dumped him a day later – the Saturday before the Monday election – but it was too late to remove his name or party affiliation from the ballot.
By election day, nearly 14,000 residents in Spadina-Fort York had already voted at advance polls and close to 5,500 had sent mail-in ballots, before the report of Mr. Vuong’s dropped sexual assault charge was published. It wasn’t possible to update the election-day ballots, either, so those who hadn’t checked the news over the weekend might’ve assumed, understandably, that Mr. Vuong was still the Liberal candidate. And after all the votes were counted, the candidate who probably never would have been approved had he been forthright about his past won the riding by a little over 2,000 votes.
Mr. Vuong now enjoys a technically permissible, if ethically illegitimate, victory. The people of Spadina-Fort York voted for him as a Liberal candidate; had he run as an independent from the outset, he’d almost certainly be toiling in obscurity with every other unaffiliated high-achiever with imperfect pasts. And while some might consider it unfair that a candidate would be disqualified from running under a mainstream political banner because of a dropped sexual assault charge, I feel compelled to remind those individuals that rainbows are just illusions and politics is not fair. Mr. Vuong proved the adage pretty well by securing the Liberal nomination by at minimum failing to be transparent, then coasting to Ottawa off the backs of early and/or misinformed voters.
Mr. Vuong has since faced calls to resign – from constituents, from fellow politicians, from the Liberal and NDP Spadina-Fort York riding associations – but he has pledged to stick around, telling those who are unhappy with his win that he will “work hard to earn your trust.” Indeed, it is theoretically possible that the people of Spadina-Fort York will come around to the guy who seems to have snuck into office and is now hanging onto the job out of sheer hubris, just as it is theoretically possible that a majority of members will mobilize to expel Mr. Vuong from the House. But since the latter action has only been executed four times in Canada’s past, neither outcome seems particularly likely.
Parliamentarians would be wary about setting a new precedent for expulsion, which was not entertained in the case of former Kitchener South-Hespeler MP Marwan Tabbara, who failed to disclose that he was arrested in April, 2020, and charged with two counts of assault, one count of break and enter and committing an indictable offence, and one count of criminal harassment. He “stepped back” from the Liberal caucus after the charges were revealed, but he remained an MP until the recent dissolution of Parliament. Former Brampton East MP Raj Grewal also continued to sit in the House as an independent in 2018 (after saying he would resign) when he left the Liberal caucus over gambling debts, which caught the attention of FINTRAC and the RCMP. Mr. Grewal, who was later charged with breach of trust and fraud, said he decided to remain as an MP after receiving encouraging messages from constituents.
It would be hard for Parliament to justify expelling Mr. Vuong, but not booting an MP charged with serious crimes or one seemingly embroiled in dubious financial schemes. Arguably, none of them upheld their obligations to put the interests of constituents above personal interest, but there is nevertheless no real recourse for voters who wish to oust such representatives who are seemingly impervious to shame. They can sign petitions and vent their frustrations online, but the ego of an entitled politician has the power to refract these expressions of angst like light on droplets after a storm. As Mr. Vuong assured his constituents, it’s all rainbows from here on out: “[I] will work hard to serve the community.”
But perhaps Kevin Vuong should heed this bit of criticism of the state of politics from 2018 – uttered by a man named Kevin Vuong. Back then, he was running to represent Spadina-Fort York in Toronto’s municipal election; at the time, Mr. Vuong claimed that the incumbent councillor had pressured him to drop out.
“There’s ego here, there’s entitlement that a lot of people here are tired of in politics,” he said then. “It’s very unfortunate.”
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