Ontario Premier Doug Ford is acknowledging he knew his finance minister, Rod Phillips, was outside Canada before the news of Phillips’s Caribbean vacation began making headlines Tuesday.
Phillips, Ford said, never told him he was leaving.
“I did call him shortly after he arrived and I asked him and he said he was away,” Ford told reporters Wednesday.
“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.”
The premier now says a “very tough conversation” is in store when Phillips returns from his trip taken while Ontarians were urged to hunker down amid rising cases of COVID-19.
WATCH | Ford admits he should have asked finance minister to return from Caribbean sooner:
Premier Doug Ford promises ‘tough conversation’ with finance minister after Caribbean trip
CBC News Toronto
3 hours agoVideo
Premier Doug Ford addressed questions about finance minister Rod Phillips’s Caribbean trip during lockdown.3:07
Phillips has been on vacation in Saint Barthélemy, a Caribbean island known popularly as St. Barts. He is on his way back to Canada and is scheduled to arrive in the country on Thursday, Ford said.
Phillips apologized Tuesday evening for leaving the country on Dec. 13 for a personal trip even as health officials pleaded with Ontarians to only venture outside of their homes for essential purposes.
Ford spoke publicly on the issue for the first time at Trillium Health in Mississauga, where staff are preparing to distribute Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to Peel Public Health.
“There can’t be rules for elected people and non-elected people,” Ford told reporters.
“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,” he said.
“It’s unacceptable and we’re going to have a very tough conversation when he gets back.”
Phillips travelled to Switzerland in August
News of Phillips’s holiday trip to the Caribbean — despite the COVID-19 pandemic and his own government’s advice to avoid non-essential travel — has left many questioning how it came about in the first place and sparked calls for his resignation.
Today Phillips’s office also told CBC News that the minister had taken a trip to Switzerland in August.
Phillips’s office posted a series of tweets in the days after the minister had already departed for the Caribbean that could arguably give the impression that he was at home through the holidays.
A Dec. 15 tweet, for example, includes a photo of Phillips with colleagues and health professionals at a funding announcement for expanded mental health services in Durham Region. A spokesperson for his office told CBC News that the photo was taken previously and was simply used to coincide with the announcement on that day.
On Dec. 24, his account posted, “As we all make sacrifices this #Christmas, remember that some of our fellow citizens won’t even be home for Christmas dinner over Zoom.”
Then in a Christmas Eve video, a fireside Phillips — flanked by a gingerbread house and a tiny Christmas tree — thanks the public for all they are doing to protect the most vulnerable.
It’s <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/ChristmasEve?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#ChristmasEve</a>. To my constituents in <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Ajax?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Ajax</a> & 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. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MerryChristmas?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MerryChristmas</a>! <a href=”https://t.co/AX7hKWA88n”>pic.twitter.com/AX7hKWA88n</a>
“I’m concerned about the videos as well on social media,” Ford said Wednesday.
“We’re going to address it, and I assure the people of Ontario we’re going to have a tough conversation when he gets back.”
Calls for Phillips to be removed from cabinet
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath echoed a call from her party for Phillips’s removal from cabinet.
“While the government demands sacrifice from everyday Ontarians, Rod Phillips chose to ignore public health advice, jet off to St. Barts and create an elaborate coverup on social media,” Horwath said Wednesday.
“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.”
Horwarth said there is a pattern of “these guys behaving like rules don’t apply to them.”
In October, Niagara MPP Sam Oosterhoff faced backlash for posting a photo to social media of himself with a large group of people at a banquet hall where nobody wore a mask.
Oosterhoff apologized and Ford accepted, saying he still had “100 per cent confidence” in his MPP.
In May, Ford also admitted that two of his daughters who live in different households visited his home over Mother’s Day weekend, contrary to the province’s COVID-19 rules at the time.
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