Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips has returned to Canada after Premier Doug Ford summoned him back from his controversial trip to St. Barts.
Speaking to reporters at Toronto Pearson International Airport, Mr. Phillips said he made a significant error in judgement and hopes to regain the confidence of Ontarians.
Mr. Phillips travelled to the luxury Caribbean island on Dec. 13, despite months of advisories from federal and provincial governments urging against travel. This week federal officials continued to warn against travelling abroad, as a more contagious variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 makes its way around the world. Mr. Phillips returns as Ontario reported a record 3,328 new COVID-19 cases, and 56 deaths.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to again unreservedly apologize for my decision to travel during the holidays. I know that I disappointed a lot of people I hope people appreciate I disappointed no one more than myself,” Mr. Phillips told reporters Thursday morning.
Asked if his actions will result in a resignation, Mr. Phillips said it is up to the Premier. Mr. Ford said on Wednesday they will have a “tough conversation” when they meet later today.
Mr. Ford said he knew Mr. Phillips was outside of the country about two weeks ago, well before it became public on Tuesday and takes responsibility for not ordering him back to Ontario. Mr. Ford said the finance minister did not tell “anyone” he was leaving.
The Premier said he called Mr. Phillips shortly after the minister arrived and asked where he was, and the minister told him he was away.
Mr. Phillips told reporters that the Premier has “far more important things to do than worry about the travel of his ministers or the people who work for him,” and the blame is his alone.
Mr. Phillips first apologized Tuesday evening for his decision to travel to St. Barts. He issued a statement earlier that day saying that if he and his wife had been aware of the eventual Dec. 26 provincewide shutdown, they would have cancelled the trip. His office has also confirmed that he travelled to Switzerland in August and that he quarantined upon his return.
Mr. Phillips was also asked if he intentionally tried to deceive people by having pre-programmed social media content that suggested he was in Ontario while he was in St. Barts.
The minister insisted it was not his intent to deceive anyone, saying most politicians pre-record social media content and he did so to promote Ajax businesses, COVID-19 support for businesses across the province and to wish his constituents a holiday greeting.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, acknowledging Mr. Phillips is a friend, said he should not be fired.
“I think he’s doing a very, very good job as finance minister, he clearly made a mistake, an error of judgment. I don’t think it’s worth letting him go,” he told CTV Ottawa Morning.
Mr. Watson said Mr. Phillips is a “talented individual” who has done a lot of good work for the province.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who is also friends with Mr. Phillips, has also said the finance minister made a mistake and will “pay a price for that,” but he stands by his friends.
This article first published here www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontario-finance-minister-rod-phillips-has-returned-to-canada-from/