Ontario Premier Doug Ford has now acknowledged that he was aware Finance Minister Rod Phillips wasn’t in the country before it became public.
Ford told reporters on Wednesday that he knew of Phillips’ whereabouts before it was discovered that the finance minister went to St. Barts for a personal vacation earlier this month.
“My mistake, and I take full responsibility. At that time, I should have said, ‘Get your backside back into Ontario,’ and I didn’t do that,” said Ford to reporters.
“I did call him shortly after he arrived and I asked him and he said he was away.”
According to Ford, Phillips had never told him that he was leaving the country.
The premier has stated that Phillips will be returning to Ontario on December 31 and says he will have a “very tough conversation” when the finance minister returns from St. Barts.
On Tuesday, Phillips issued a statement claiming that the trip was planned some time ago before he left in early December.
“Immediately following the end of the Legislative Session, which occurred on December 8th, my wife and I departed on a previously planned personal trip outside of the country,” Phillips said in a statement.
“Had I been aware then of the eventual December 26th Province wide shutdown, we would have cancelled the trip.”
Ford emphasized that there can’t be rules for “elected people and non-elected people,” especially during these unprecedented times.
“I can tell you I’m very upset, I’m very frustrated with the situation. I stand out here every single day and tell people to stay at home,” said Ford to reporters.
Despite Ford condemning the issue, Toronto Mayor John Tory chimed in on the matter and stood by Phillips, claiming that it was a “serious mistake.”
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“Minister Phillips made a mistake, a serious mistake. He’s been chastised by the premier for that; he has admitted his own deep regret at making that mistake. I have acknowledged that it was a mistake,” said Tory.
“I think people who know me also know that I especially stand by my friends when they make mistakes and when they’re in trouble because I just think that you have to do that. It’s not about the actions, it’s about the person. He’s a human being and he made a mistake.”
New Democratic Party leader Andrea Horwath also commented on the recent revelations, calling for Phillips to be removed from cabinet.
While the Ford gov’t demands everyday Ontarians sacrifice, Rod Phillips ignored public health advice, created an elaborate social media cover-up & jetted off to St. Barts – a place the CDC calls a High #COVID19 risk.
Ford must remove him from cabinet.https://t.co/d0T4gjOSIk
— Andrea Horwath (@AndreaHorwath) December 30, 2020