Travel & Culture

How A Toronto MP Is Fighting For Tolerance & Equality For All: Q&A With Kevin Vuong

May 24, 2024

Recently, it was our honour to interview Kevin Vuong, MP, Spadina-Fort York. The son of refugees, Kevin is dedicated to serving Canada, possessing a deep gratitude to the country for welcoming his parents when other places were closing their borders to people fleeing the violence of the Vietnam War. Prior to the election, he wore many hats as an entrepreneur, lecturer and military officer. Soon, he will be a first-time father. Currently, Kevin is a key ally to the Jewish community, as that group sees levels of anti-semitism rise across Canada. Below, find out more about why he does what he does. —Noa Nichol

As the youngest Asian Canadian elected to the 44th Parliament and someone who has been recognized as a leader in the Asian community, how do you plan to leverage Asian Heritage Month to promote awareness, celebrate diversity, and address issues affecting Asian Canadians within your constituency and across the country?

It is a privilege to serve in Canada’s 44th Parliament. As I reflect on Asian Heritage Month, it is humbling to be the youngest Asian Canadian MP and to be able to represent not only my Chinese and Vietnamese heritage, but also add my voice to championing all Canadians of Asian heritage. When I was growing up, there were few people that looked like me in places of influence. This is why I sought out to be an active member in the community and help to further open the doors of representation in the spaces where I earned the opportunity to participate in.

Asian Heritage Month is an occasion for me to thank those who came before me and redouble my commitment to make it easier for those who come after me. As I always do, I have been taking this month to participate in various events commemorating and celebrating Asian Heritage Month, within my community and across Toronto. I enjoy speaking with people, so I’m taking the time to speak with members of the community, be it a business owner, a student or a senior citizen. Building these relationships enable me to ensure I have a pulse on what truly matters to our city so that I can best fight for the issue that are most important to Canadians. For example, I have been fighting tirelessly to improve safety in Chinatown and Toronto. This is an issue that is of the outermost importance, as ensuring the safety of this community ensures businesses can thrive and empowers the community to further promote our rich heritage.

As a soon-to-be first-time father, how has impending parenthood influenced your perspective on public service and your goals as a Member of Parliament?

I was surprised at just how quick and impactful the prospect of being a first-time father changed my outlook. When my wife and I found out that we were expecting, my decision-making shifted so swiftly from my wife and our community to putting our child at the top of my priorities. I have always been focused on looking at the long-term, but having a kid on the way puts a whole new lens on life. As a father-to-be who also serves as a Member of Parliament, I worry about the hate and violence we have been seeing on Canada’s streets and university campuses, as I want my child, as every parent would, to grow up in a country that’s safe and where everyone belongs. I am also concerned about the debt that my child and future generations will inherit as a result of the government’s irresponsible spending; I am troubled by the fall in Canadians’ living standards, almost the lowest in forty years, and what that means for my child. So it’s with this intensified sense of responsibility for a better future for my child and Canada that I am driven to work even harder for a better city and country.

Your dedication to supporting the Jewish community in Canada and your recent efforts against rising anti-Semitism are commendable. Can you share more about your motivations behind these initiatives and your vision for combating prejudice and fostering inclusivity?

It is quite simple, I believe wholeheartedly that hate is a dangerous, indiscriminate virus that must be stopped the moment it rears its ugly head. If someone hates a person for being Jewish, they will hate me for being Asian and they will hate others. This is why I will always denounce hate and bigotry, and I refuse to stay silent while anti-Semitism is surging and my neighbours and friends in the Jewish community are targeted, assaulted, and worse. I am also glad to share the month of May with my Jewish brothers and sisters as May marks not only Asian Heritage Month, it is also Jewish heritage month. Our communities have a long shared history of friendship and allyship. For example, it was Jewish Canadian lawyer Irving Himel who helped Kew Dock Yip, Canada’s first lawyer of Chinese heritage, to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act.

From your experiences as the son of refugees to your various roles as an entrepreneur, lecturer, and military officer, what aspects of your background do you believe have most shaped your approach to leadership and governance?

As the son of refugees who lost their home to communism, my parents raised me to honour the nation that welcomed them at a time when other countries were closing their borders to people in need. In fact, it was a desire to give back to the country that gave my family everything that led to me volunteer to join the Canadian Armed Forces as a naval reserve officer. As refugees, all my parents’ wealth and that of their families was stolen. Nor did they have generational networks that they could use to help their kids. Instead, they gave us something that I believe to be infinitely more valuable, which was to teach me the value of hard work and dedication. They taught me that mistakes and obstacles are a fact of life, but what differentiates you is what you do in the face of those stumbles. The military showed me that being a good leader and officer meant being the first in and the last out, never asking someone to do something that we wouldn’t do ourselves, and that true leadership was best demonstrated through action. I do my best to live these values in everything I do, whether as an entrepreneur, in the classroom, or in my role now as a Member of Parliament.

Your entrepreneurial ventures, such as founding Delphic Research Group and developing Canada’s first evidence-based reusable mask during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrate a commitment to innovation and public service. How do you see innovation playing a role in addressing pressing social and economic challenges in Canada?

Businesses are not only the engines of Canada’s economy, it’s also where innovation is mostly driven and where we can have huge community impacts. I firmly believe that business can be a force for good and we did our best to live that value in the businesses that I founded and operated. And that entrepreneurial mindset of innovation and risk-taking to do good is something I have brought to my public service. For example, my office uses a leading private sector customer service platform to manage our constituency service work. We are able to serve more people quicker and more reliably while also leveraging technology to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. I am continually looking for more and better ways to improve service.

Serving as Canada’s NATO 2030 Young Leader and being active in the Royal Canadian Navy, how do you view Canada’s role in global security and cooperation, particularly within NATO, and what steps do you believe Canada should take to contribute to a safer and more stable world?

Canada is always stronger together standing with our allies and other democracies than we are going at anything alone. As a founding member of NATO, Canada must honour its international commitment to the Alliance and invest 2% of our GDP in national defence. We must ensure that our Canadian Armed Forces have the training, equipment, and platforms to keep Canadians safe and protect our interests both at home and abroad.

Your involvement in research on artificial intelligence, bias, and the future of work suggests a keen interest in emerging technologies and their societal implications. How do you envision harnessing technology to promote equity and opportunity for all Canadians, particularly in light of potential challenges such as job displacement?

Artificial intelligence can be a powerful tool for good, provided the right guardrails and protections are in place. This is the case for other emerging technologies, but the common theme for making the most of any technology is having strong leadership to realize its full potential and value. We need that leadership to ensure that those whose jobs might be impacted are equipped to transition for the future, and I am worried that the country does not have leaders who will be able to help us to navigate this period of disruption.

As someone who has served on various boards and community organizations, including the Native Canadian Centre of Toronto and the Mishkaowjiwan Foundation, can you discuss the importance of community engagement in shaping policies and programs that address the needs of diverse communities?

Get involved in your communities! If you want impactful change, the best driver of that change is you. As cliché as this may sound, it truly does boil down to being the change you want to see.

Your experiences as a lecturer at the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine and Western University, coupled with your research on healthcare skills and digital transformation, highlight your interest in healthcare innovation. What are your priorities for advancing healthcare accessibility and affordability in Canada?

It’s a demographic fact that Canada is aging. To ensure our seniors can live the fulsome lives that they deserve, we will need technology to augment and improve the healthcare that we can provide them and everyone else in the country. We also need to examine other models for care delivery and structures. We can both be proud of the fact that Canada has universal access to healthcare and also recognize that the status quo is unsustainable. To advance the cause for better, more accessible healthcare for all, I am focused on bringing facts to the discourse. I want to ensure that healthcare, like other important issues, do not fall victim to politicization and oversimplification of a complex issue into a black-and-white private vs. public healthcare. The reality is there are many configurations and best practices that we can adapt from abroad to ensure that every has access to quality healthcare.

Given your involvement in initiatives focused on youth engagement and urban planning, how do you believe younger generations can be better empowered to participate in decision-making processes that shape their communities and the country at large?

Young people deserve to have a say in their future; that means going to where they are and communicating with them on the platforms that they use. The reality is people are busy and, as elected officials, it’s our duty to go to the people we represent, consult them, and ensure that we are working on the issues that matter most to them. I’ve seen an alarming trend in Toronto where local officials are forcing important decisions that impact community safety without any local consultation. That’s a failure of democracy and their duty to consult. To be better, I do my best to proactively engage and inform people about the issues of the nation, the city, and their local neighbourhoods. To me, democracy is a verb and a muscle that we must regularly practice; that means going to people where they are on social media channels or at in-person events.

Reflecting on your diverse range of experiences and accomplishments, what overarching principles guide your approach to leadership, and what legacy do you hope to leave as an MP and advocate for positive change in Canada?

The guiding principles that I aspire to live and practice are empathy, hard work, and integrity. Mistakes, of course, happen and to be human is to be fallible, but all we can do is to pick ourselves back up when we slip up, dust ourselves off, and get back to doing the best that we can. I share this as a reminder to myself as well as others to extend grace and humility to ourselves and others when people inevitably stumble. We are living in increasingly challenging and polarizing times, and I hope people will keep our humanity in mind as navigate these turbulent times. When it comes to legacy, as the trailblazers who came before me did, I hope to have made it easier for those who also choose to serve.


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