Experts doubt Vuong will be expelled from Commons over withdrawn charge
Expulsion would result in his seat being declared vacant, which would trigger a byelection
If embattled incoming Toronto MP Kevin Vuong refuses to resign his seat in the House of Commons, despite mounting pressure to do so, could his fellow members of Parliament just kick him out?
The answer is yes.
Whether that would actually happen, however, is doubtful, experts say.
“In theory, the House does have the authority to expel a member. It governs itself (and) it can choose to expel pretty much on any basis it wants,” said Emmett Macfarlane, a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.
“But it would be, in practice, an extraordinary step. This isn’t something that’s really happened in the modern era at all.”
An expulsion would result in Vuong’s seat being declared vacant, sparking a byelection.
That has only happened four times, most recently in 1947; two of those expulsions were of Métis leader and politician Louis Riel in the 19th century.
Vuong was dropped by the Liberal party as its candidate in Spadina—Fort York just days before the election, after the Star revealed he had been charged with sexual assault in 2019. That charge was later withdrawn by the Crown, and Vuong has denied any wrongdoing.
While Vuong did not tell the party that he had been charged when he was selected as a nominee, the Liberals could have independently discovered that information, raising questions about the party’s vetting process for its nominees.
Despite his party’s disavowal, Vuong’s name remained on the ballot as the Liberal candidate in Spadina—Fort York, and he went on to win the riding in last week’s election. That led some constituents — who voted by mail or at advance polls prior to the publication of the Star’s story — to complain that they had cast their ballots before crucial information came to light.
If Vuong were to resign now, that would also spark a byelection.
But in a brief statement over the weekend, he doubled down on his decision to sit in the House as an Independent, despite calls for him to step aside from Spadina—Fort York’s Liberal riding association, his predecessor, other MPs, city councillors and numerous constituents.
If Vuong were to be expelled, “the House would essentially be saying ‘We’re upholding the right of voters to have an honest candidate, to have an honest MP,’ and if he wants to make that case, then he can go ahead and do it,” said Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch.
Conacher said he believes there should be an expulsion resolution over Vuong’s failure to disclose key information. Then, if he were to be expelled from the House, “he could run again, and try to win with his defence of what happened, and voters will decide.”
But whether other MPs would actually want to expel Vuong is another matter.
His case is certainly not the first instance in which voters have learned new information about a candidate either during a campaign or after an election, Macfarlane said.
“And so if the precedent were that any time a candidate withholds potentially relevant information they should be expelled from the House, that would get pretty unsustainable as a rule pretty quickly, I would think,” he said.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if he sat until the next election, but I’m not ruling out expulsion. There are political and perception reasons why some parliamentarians might support expelling him at the same time.”
University of Toronto political science professor Christopher Cochrane said it’s more likely that Vuong will be “completely and utterly ignored” as an Independent MP in the House of Commons.
“Obviously it is a power that can be abused, so there are good reasons for being careful, erring on the side of not expelling somebody, even if we could agree in this particular case it may well be justified,” he said.