You may be familiar with the phrase’ game it out.’ It’s a way to examine ideas, scenarios, concepts and strategies to figure out what could happen – and what the end result could be. In politics and the media, we game out everything from written pieces to communications strategies.
For fun, let’s game out a particular event from last week’s federal election that’s left many people fuming.
No, it’s not about Justin Trudeau still being prime minister, although he would play a role. This relates to Kevin Vuong, who was dumped days before the election by the Liberals but still won a seat in Parliament.
Vuong is the 30-something son of Vietnamese refugees. He holds degrees from the University of Western Ontario (bachelor) and University of Toronto (master’s of law) and is an entrepreneur. He served in the Royal Canadian Navy with the rank of acting sub-lieutenant. He ran for Toronto city council in 2018 but claimed he was pressured to stay out of the race.
Vuong also appeared on the Toronto-based radio station Newstalk 1010 as a political commentator. I was on two panels with him in February 2018 when I worked there. He struck me as pleasant, but he offered almost nothing of substance with respect to politics and economics – unless you feel that predictable, progressive-style talking points are the cat’s meow.
Ah, but that clearly made him the perfect catch for the Liberals!
Vuong was acclaimed as the Liberal candidate for Spadina-Fort York on Aug. 13. The previous officeholder, Adam Vaughan, a former journalist and city councillor who had comfortably held the riding for the Liberals twice, decided not to run again. It certainly seemed like Vuong would have an easy entry into federal politics.
Until everything fell apart.
The Toronto Star and other publications discovered Vuong was charged with sexual assault in 2019. The charges were dropped, but he reportedly failed to disclose this legal matter to the Liberals. The party asked him to “pause” his campaign on Sept. 16 and decided on Sept. 18 that he would no longer be a Liberal candidate. (The Canadian Forces recently decided to look into this matter.)
It was too late to remove Vuong’s name from the ballot so he remained on as a Liberal. He won the election, which caused a public outcry from Vaughan, NDP candidate Norm Di Pasquale (who finished second), residents of the riding and others.
Regardless, Vuong decided to sit in Parliament as an independent, noting “there is work to be done to regain trust.”
As things stand, Vuong will be allowed to take his seat – unless the Liberals opt to test the definition for expulsion from the House of Commons.
Could it be done?
Let’s game it out.
According to the House of Commons’ Procedure and Practice, Section 18 of the Constitution Act, 1867, ensures that our Parliament “possesses the power of expulsion.” Hence, the House “may expel a Member for offences committed outside his or her role as an elected representative or committed outside a session of Parliament.”
It’s rare for an MP to be expelled. It’s only happened four times in Canada: Louis Riel in 1874 and 1875 (charged in Thomas Scott’s murder, “judged an outlaw for felony”), Thomas McGreevy in 1891 (“corrupt practices” related to construction in the Quebec Harbour, expelled for contempt) and Fred Rose in 1947 (“violating” the Official Secrets Act, sent to prison for six years).
Vuong’s controversy is different. The sexual assault charge was dropped, so it would be wrong to use it as part of the equation. But his decision to not disclose this withdrawn charge cloaks an important part of his record.
The Liberals and other parties require prospective candidates to acknowledge every former or existing charge during the vetting process. It serves as protection for a party if something in a candidate’s record is ever held to account. It also gives parties the option to drop candidates off the bat, or defend them as being honest and forthright about a difficult situation that’s been resolved.
Vuong wasn’t forthcoming and left himself and the party open to public scrutiny. While it may be a procedural matter, it’s an important issue because MPs are supposed to follow the rules and spirit of what the House has stood for centuries. He clearly didn’t do this.
With this in mind, the minority Liberal government could attempt to move the political goalposts to add “unelected representatives” or “MP-elects” to the section related to expulsion when Parliament reconvenes. They would need the additional help of the NDP or Bloc Quebecois to make this procedural change and potentially expel Vuong from the House.
Do I believe this will happen?
It seems highly unlikely. What Vuong did was morally, ethically and politically wrong. But to be expelled for a procedural matter would be quite stunning. It could also lead to a legal challenge and hold up that seat for months or years.
Then again, the Liberals may want to ensure that future candidates for their party, and other parties, learn an important lesson about being honest and forthright during the vetting process.
If so, the option exists – and has been gamed out, free of charge.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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