Since attack ads targeted him in Chinese-language newspapers last week, Richmond South Centre NDP candidate Chak Kwong Au has sent mixed messages about where he stands on what he calls “moral issues.”
In an interview with Xtra on April 10, 2017, Au affirmed his commitment to human rights and equality, but his statements to the English and Chinese-language media over the past week leave a puzzling trail.
Last week, ads appeared in two Chinese-language newspapers, Ming Pao and Sing Tao, calling on Au to oppose same-sex marriage, safe-injection sites, gender-neutral washrooms and early sex education, lest Richmond become “another Downtown Eastside.”
The ads were taken out by a group calling itself the Richmond Community Development Concern Group, which has not responded to calls from Xtra or other media. They accuse Au of turning away from his constituents to join the NDP, and giving up his principles in favour of the party’s alleged moral evils.
At this point, the narratives in the English and Chinese-language media sharply diverge. English-language media such as CBC and CTV reported the ads largely as attacks on Au as an NDP candidate. The CTV story says the ads criticize Au for his support for same-sex marriage, something they never actually say. Instead, the ads criticize the NDP for supporting same-sex marriage, and suggest Au is betraying his principles by joining them.
In an interview with CTV April 8, Au sharply criticized the ads, saying “This kind of biased, anonymous attack should have no place in Richmond, and in BC.”
A few days earlier on April 4, however, in an interview with Cantonese-language Fairchild Radio, Au says he thinks the ads are “reasonable” and not really an attack on him at all. He also says his moral views on these questions have not changed, and that NDP leader John Horgan promised him he could vote his conscience on “sensitive” moral issues.
In an interview the same day with Sing Tao (published five days later on April 9), Au reiterates that his moral positions have never changed, and that Horgan has promised him the freedom to vote how he likes.
“If the NDP in the future bring up in the legislature policies or positions that do not benefit voters, or are contrary to my faith or beliefs, I will not go along with them,” he says in Chinese. “[The NDP] agreed I could vote my conscience on these sensitive questions. This was a condition of my joining the NDP.”
To the English-language South China Morning Post, Au sidesteps the question, saying the issues in the ads are “not the focus of my campaign.”
In a phone interview April 10, Xtra asked Au what he meant when he said his positions had not changed on moral issues. Au replied that he supports “human rights and equality for all people in British Columbia.” Asked if he supports same-sex marriage, Au said yes.
Au also said the attacks on him have been hypocritical, since the policies attacked in the ads — such as same-sex marriage and gender-neutral washrooms in schools — have also been supported by BC Liberals.
On his agreement with Horgan, Au said the NDP leader expects him to vote for the benefit of his constituents, like any other MLA. Au would not give examples of when he might vote his conscience on moral issues, and did not explain what he meant by his unchanged moral positions.
When pressed on what moral positions he discussed with Horgan, Au said, “They haven’t come up.”
A representative for the BC NDP told Xtra that “John Horgan tells all candidates he expects NDP MLAs to stand behind the commitments they make to voters, and to honour the NDP policies and values they run on.”
Au also published a statement on his website on April 9, replying to the ads:
“I want to be clear about where I stand. I believe in the human rights code and I support the law of the land. I believe in human rights for everyone, including those in the LGBTQ community. My goal is to work with all communities to build an inclusive and accepting society where everyone can be free of discrimination.”
A family therapist and former professor from Hong Kong turned politician, Au has not stuck to one political party. As a city councillor in Richmond, he is a member of the BC Liberal-founded Richmond Community Coalition. In the last federal election, he supported Conservative MP Alice Wong. According to the Richmond News, documents show he flirted with candidacy for the BC Liberals before eventually joining the NDP to run in the upcoming provincial election on May 9.
“I have never been a partisan,” he told Sing Tao. “I have always looked out for the interests of the voters, policies and positions. I will cooperate with whatever party fits those positions.”
Editor’s note, April 11, 2017: This article has been amended to reflect that Chak Au’s interview with Sing Tao was conducted on April 4, though published on April 9.