rod phillips ontario

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips returns home from St. Barts to frigid welcome

Ontario Finance Minister (and apparent social media wizard?) Rod Phillips has returned home to Canada from the luxurious Caribbean island of St. Barts after more than two weeks of putting on sweaters for Zoom calls and otherwise trying to fool his constituents into thinking he'd never left Ajax.

Phillips did, as we all now know, leave Ontario for a tropical vacation with his wife on Dec. 13, despite the federal government's warnings against all non-essential travel and his own government's repeated pleas for people to stay home amid the pandemic.

As news of the finance minister's unauthorized trip exploded on Tuesday, citizens were caught off-guard: After all, he'd been tweeting the entire time as though he were spending the holidays at home in Ontario, complete with fireside videos and photos of himself visiting local stores.

The man went so far as to superimpose himself wearing winter clothes against a Queen's Park background during a government video call last week. As pointed out by the Liberal Party, waves could be heard crashing ashore when Phillips was unmuted.

The irony of a wealthy politician tweeting from a tropical paradise about how we all need to "make sacrifices this Christmas" was too much for anyone to handle — especially given how many Ontario residents cancelled their own holiday travel plans at the provincial government's request.

People are livid across the board, and that's putting it lightly. Many social media users are calling for the Ajax MPP's head (or rather, his immediate resignation or dismissal from Premier Doug Ford's cabinet).

Ford, who says he knew nothing of his minister's travel plans before Phillips had left the country, told reporters on Wednesday that he and Phillips would be having a "very tough conversation" about what comes next once the latter rich white man came home.

Calling the finance minister's decision to travel "completely unacceptable," Ford said that he had asked Phillips to return immediately — not after learning of the trip, which he did weeks ago, but on Tuesday, after everyone else in the province learned about it.

Phillips complied with Ford's request, noting in a statement on Wednesday that he was "making arrangements to return to Ontario and will begin a 14 day quarantine as soon as I arrive."

First though, he would stop to speak with reporters at the airport and dish on his secret jaunt to St. Barts.

"Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that," said Phillips on Thursday morning after touching down at Toronto Pearson and emerging to a barrage of pointed questions. 

"I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn't have travelled."

Like Toronto Mayor John Tory, who on Wednesday excused Phillips's decision as "a mistake," the finance minister said during his post-landing mini press conference that he couldn't quite explain why he'd done what he had done.

"[It was] a dumb, dumb mistake, I apologize for it, I regret it," he said, echoing an apology statement his team had issued Wednesday and prompting a whole new round of tweets regarding the definition of the word "mistake."

When asked about his shady social media behaviour, Phillips explained that many politicians pre-program their holiday tweets, and that it wasn't his intention to decieve anyone.

Again, citizens aren't buying it.

"Rod Phillips just landed in Toronto and sprinted to a microphone to explain his trip was 'a mistake'," wrote one. "With respect Mr. Phillips, when you release tweets disguising your location but telling people to stay home, that's a deceit not a mistake. You need to pay for your deceit."

"I think Ontario is being naive about Rod Phillips and needs to demand more than his resignation," suggested another. "He crafted an elaborate deceit to cover up a three-week vacay at an incredibly expensive plute's paradise, apparently without informing his boss. We need receipts to ensure it was above board."

As of Thursday morning, Phillips still has a job: He confirmed at the airport that Ford had not yet asked for his resignation.

He also said that he wishes to continue on in his role, but that he will respect the Premier's decision whatever the outcome is.

"There's very important work that still needs to be done, and I'd like to continue to be a part of that," he said. 

"But I do understand, people are angry, they deserve to be angry, I have to earn back their confidence."

Whether or not Ford gives him the chance to do that — or the fallout he'd face for doing so — remains to be seen.

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