Ontario Minister of Finance Rod Phillips said he made a mistake in taking a personal trip to St. Barts at a time when Canadians are being told to avoid non-essential international travel.
Phillips and his wife left Canada on Dec. 13, days after the provincial legislature adjourned, and is still out of the country, Emily Hogeveen, a spokesperson for the minister, confirmed to HuffPost Canada.
“I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize,” Phillips said in a statement Tuesday evening.
“I am making arrangements to return to Ontario immediately and will begin a 14-day quarantine as soon as I arrive.”
Phillips said in a previous statement he has continued to work daily in both his role as a minister and as MPP for Ajax, “including dozens of digital Ministry, constituency and cabinet committee calls and meetings.”
“Had I been aware then of the eventual December 26th provincewide shutdown, we would have canceled the trip,” the minister previously said.
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Hogeveen also confirmed Phillips left the country in August for a personal trip and quarantined for 14 days upon arriving back in Canada.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Dec. 22 “we can’t take unnecessary risks” as a new variant of COVID-19 spreads. He called for more testing and further tightening of borders.
Ford said in a statement he is “extremely disappointed” in the minister’s decision to travel abroad.
“I have let the minister know that his decision to travel is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again — by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus,” the premier said. “I have also told the minister I need him back in the country immediately.”
Tweets on Phillips’ account since his departure — which show him interacting with business owners, other politicians and community leaders — have all been posted by staff and include photos from before his trip, Hogeveen said.
One of those tweets, posted Dec. 24, is a message encouraging people to thank front-line workers for the sacrifices they’re making during the holidays.
After Newstalk1010 broke the news of the minister’s trip, people have replied to the tweet to ask Phillips what sacrifices he has made.
Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP Sara Singh said Phillips needs to face consequences for the trip.
“Everyday folks were separated from their aging parents during the holidays. They’ve missed the birthdays and graduations of people who are precious to them, and they have been separated from nieces, nephews and grandbabies as they’ve grown and hit new milestones over the last year,” Singh said.
“While the rest of us ache to hug our loved ones again, Doug Ford insiders are whooping it up ….”
Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca also criticized the trip, writing on Twitter, “There needs to be consequences for Minister Phillips’ hypocrisy, but the buck stops with Doug Ford.”
Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s associate chief medical officer of health, told reporters Tuesday she couldn’t comment on what Phillips “has done or not done.”
But she reiterated that public health advice is to not travel outside of Canada unless for an “absolutely essential” reason, and to quarantine for 14 days upon returning.
“Obviously, I would prefer that people don’t take a vacation at this time unless it’s an essential reason to travel,” Yaffe said. “And that’s the message we keep telling people.”
Earlier on HuffPost:
This article has been updated with a new statement from Minister Rod Phillips and Premier Doug Ford.