TORONTO (AP) — In a video posted on Twitter on Christmas Eve, the finance minister of Canada’s most populous province was shown sitting by a fireplace in a sweater with a gingerbread house and a little Christmas tree, drinking eggnog.
“I want to thank every one of you for what we are doing to protect our most vulnerable,” Rod Phillips said about Ontarians staying home and avoiding nonessential travel because of the pandemic over the Christmas holidays.
But Phillips himself had been enjoying a Caribbean vacation since Dec. 13 on the French island of St. Barts, a popular spot for the rich and famous. even as his Twitter account had suggested he was in snowbound Ontario.
Now that word of his whereabouts has broken in public, he’s been summoned back home by Premier Doug Ford, who promised a “very tough conversation” with Phillips. Oppositions parties and the health officials are calling for Phillips to be fired from Cabinet.
Phillips arrived at Pearson International Airport in Toronto on Thursday and spoke to waiting reporters before starting a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
“It was a dumb dumb mistake,” Phillips said. “Later on today I’ll be speaking to Premier Ford. I know that people are understandably angry about the situation. I do hope to be able to regain their confidence in the days and weeks ahead.”
He said it will be up to the premier on whether he continues in Cabinet.
“I hope people appreciate that I disappointed no one more than myself,” Phillips said.
Ford claimed Phillips “never told anyone” he was leaving, but said he learned Phillips was out of the country when he called “shortly after he arrived” in the Caribbean.
“I should have said get your backside back into Ontario and I didn’t do that,” Ford said.
Ontario began a province-wide lockdown on Saturday and Ford has been blaming travelers for bringing the new coronavirus to the province. Canada’s national government and the Ontario government have both repeatedly asked Canadians not to travel abroad during the pandemic.
Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said Phillips should resign.
“That would be the honorable thing to do but honor is in short supply these days in the political world,” Wiseman said.
“This is a devastating blow to the government and Ford personally because, as he has admitted, he knew that Phillips was in St. Bart’s and did not upbraid and order him back immediately. Ford only did so once the news of Phillips’s absence became public,” he added.
The Ford government already was being criticized for halting vaccination operations over the holidays and for delaying the provincewide lockdown until the day after Christmas.
Ontario set a new daily record for cases on Thursday with 3,238.
“Ford is also suffering from the slow roll-out of the vaccine, the slowest in Canada,” Wiseman said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s national government, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that passengers must have a negative COVID-19 test taken within three days before they arrive in Canada.
Canada already requires those entering the country to self-isolate for 14 days and it has already banned all flights from the United Kingdom because of the new variant of COVID-19 spreading there.
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