Ontario Finance Minister issued fakeout tweets to fool public while vacationing in St. Barts
The plot thickens in the case of Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips and his unauthorized holiday jaunt to St. Barts — a tropical vacation which will come to an abrupt end this week at the behest of an "extremely disappointed" Premier Doug Ford.
Ford, whose administration has for months been urging everyone to avoid non-essential travel amid the COVID-19 pandemic, said in a statement on Tuesday night that he was "not aware" of his finance minister's trip, and that neither he nor his office had approved it.
"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," said the Premier.
"I have also told the minister I need him back in the country immediately."
Some are skeptical about Ford's claims of not knowing about the trip beforehand, but almost everyone weighing in on the matter wants Phillips to be punished for defying his government's own shutdown rules. Hard.
Someone needs to give our Finance Minister (and his staff) a lesson in public relations.— Janice Mandel (@janicemandel) December 30, 2020
It's bad enough that he's on vacation out of the country (https://t.co/g5z6b3HjC4).
Using social media to give the impression that he's in town is dumb. No transparency => no trust. https://t.co/S8qEuwkTvm
Unbeknownst to anyone before the news of his absence broke, Phillips had left Canada for the French-owned Caribbean island with his wife on December 13.
"Immediately following the end of the Legislative Session, which occurred on December 8th, my wife and I departed on a previously planned personal trip outside of the country," said Phillips in a statement on Tuesday.
"Had I been aware then of the eventual December 26th Province wide shutdown, we would have canceled the trip."
Phillips went on to explain that he had continued his daily work as Finance Minister and MPP for Ajax while abroad, which is true: Phillips attended dozens of digital ministry, constituency and cabinet meetings while in the Carribean.
The problem (aside from the obvious flouting of government-issued travel advice) is that he conciously tried to decieve the public regarding his whereabouts.
So you pre-recorded this to make it look like you were at home, when really you were "abroad" on vacation? At a time when families all across ON sacrificed and stayed home, you jetted off to god knows where, and tried to conceal that fact. Disgusting— Julie Steel (@DonlanSteel) December 29, 2020
I mean, it's one thing — an already shady thing — for an elected leader to take a secret trip to the tropics, amid a pandemic, against the recommendations of all public health officials, after months of his government urging all Ontario residents to stay home.
It's another thing still to post pre-canned tweets that make it look like you're chilling at home on Christmas Eve in an attempt to trick your constituents.
"As we all make sacrifices this Christmas, remember that some of our fellow citizens won't even be home for Christmas dinner over Zoom," reads a tweet published to Phillips' Twitter account on December 24.
"Thousands of front line heroes will be at work, looking out for us. Who is the special hero in your life you want to thank?"
He didn't specifically claim to be at home, but had implied as much by posting a video of himself in front of a fireplace addressing "my constituents in Ajax" just minutes earlier.
There, I fixed it for you! #onpoli #cdnpoli pic.twitter.com/bQEqvvJcMK— 𝕄𝕖𝕞𝕖𝕕𝕚𝕥𝕠𝕣𝕚𝕒𝕝𝕚𝕤𝕥 (@ajhtweeting) December 30, 2020
It's unclear if the video was pre-recorded at home to be tweeted on Christmas Eve, or if Phillips took the trouble of arranging an entire Christmas set complete with working fireplace in St. Barts for its filming.
Either way, Ontario residents are livid over the hypocrisy of Phillips urging people to "make sacrifices" from an island best known for hosting such rich celebrities on vacation.
"This law abiding citizen is now furious. My wife and do not invite anyone family for Christmas. We even ordered food in for Christmas dinner. We cancelled our trip south," wrote one person in response Phillips' tweet about making sacrifices. "We were told that was the right thing to do."
"My mother passed and I didn't travel to Europe because of the advisory. Do you understand? Let me be clear: I DIDN'T GET TO SEE MY MOTHER BEFORE SHE DIED AND I'LL NEVER SEE HER AGAIN," wrote another.
"Yet there you are, having a fun time in St. Barts. Resign!"
Rod Phillips subtweet of the day https://t.co/MO5pNAWqi9— next time do not fucking wait (@jasonhindle) December 30, 2020
It wasn't until Wednesday morning that Phillips actually even apologized for travelling and vowed to cut his vacation short.
"I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize," he said in a statement. "I left on a personally paid for trip to St. Barts on December 13... I am making arrangements to return to Ontario and will begin a 14 day quarantine as soon as I arrive."
The minister has yet to address his social media trickery, however — and there's more for him to explain than the fireplace video: On December 15, Phillips published a photo of himself and some MPPs in Durham region standing outside.
"It was my pleasure to join my colleagues and some of Durham's mental health leaders in announcing over $1.6 Million in funding to support Mental Health & Addictions services expansion in Durham," he wrote, failing to mention that he wasn't actually in Canada at the time.
So uhhh you weren’t actually there on this date....this is like when Andy from the office went to the Bahamas and lied to David Wallace— Merce (@mercethecurse) December 30, 2020
Given his percieved deceptiveness, members of the public aren't buying the minister's apology.
"If this was truly a regrettable mistake, you wouldn't have pre-filmed a Christmas message, sitting in front of a fire, when you 'know' you're leaving the country on vacation. Or already have," wrote one Twitter user.
"That pre-planning is quite devious actually."
"MISTAKE?! Ross Gellar made a mistake thinking he was on a break from Rachel!" wrote another user from Toronto in response to Mayor John Tory's defence of Phillips' trip on Wednesday as "a mistake."
"Rod Phillips purposely, methodically deceived the voters in Ajax! If you think it's ok you should resign! Ontarians deserve better!"
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