Ontario’s Finance Minister Rod Phillips has returned to Canada after taking a controversial trip to St. Barts amidst the second wave of COVID-19.
Phillips said he went on vacation shortly after the Legislative Session ended on December 8 and acknowledged that if the lockdown was announced earlier the trip would have been cancelled—the province-wide lockdown began December 26.
On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford told reporters that he knew of Phillips’ whereabouts before it was discovered that the finance minister went to St. Barts for a personal vacation.
“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 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.
In a statement from Phillips’ office, the minister said, “I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize.”
He acknowledged that he left on a personally paid trip to St. Barts and that he made arrangements to return immediately to begin the 14-day quarantine.
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Official Opposition Leader for the NDP, Andrea Horwath has called for his resignation stating that while people have been asked to not leave their households a high-up official did the opposite.
“It’s not believable that a senior member of cabinet didn’t tell the premier’s office he was leaving the country for weeks during the height of a global emergency. If he didn’t, that in itself would be enough reason to demote him,” she said in a statement.
“Because of his lack of judgment and lack of honesty, Doug Ford must kick Rod Phillips out of cabinet.”
While Phillips was away on vacation, there were several social media posts on his page that were being posted which looked like he was still in the country.
A post on Christmas Eve showed him in a living room thanking residents for their sacrifices during the holiday season.
It’s #ChristmasEve. To my constituents in #Ajax & people across Ontario, all the best during this special time of year. Even as COVID-19 changes how we celebrate, we should reflect on what makes Christmas so special to us – including family & the act of giving. #MerryChristmas! pic.twitter.com/AX7hKWA88n
— Rod Phillips (@RodPhillips01) December 24, 2020
He also posted photos visiting local businesses in his constituency of Ajax.
Ford has not yet said what the repercussions of the minister’s actions will be.