Ontario’s finance minister returned from a Caribbean vacation on Thursday amid a provincial lockdown, acknowledging the decision to go on a personal trip during the pandemic may cost him his job.
Rod Phillips arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport in the morning after spending more than two weeks in St. Barts despite provincial guidelines urging people to avoid non-essential travel.
Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday he would have a “very tough conversation” with Phillips upon his arrival.
Phillips said he wants to keep his job, but will respect the premier’s decision.
“There’s very important work that still needs to be done, and I’d like to continue to be a part of that. But I do understand, people are angry, they deserve to be angry, I have to earn back their confidence,” Phillips told reporters at the airport.
Phillips has said he will quarantine in Ajax, Ont., for 14 days starting Thursday.
Ford said Wednesday he first learned about the trip shortly after Phillips arrived in St. Barts. He said he should have asked the finance minister to immediately return to Ontario, but he didn’t – calling it a mistake.
He said it’s “unacceptable” for any public official to ignore the province’s COVID-19 guidelines.
Phillips said on Thursday that he regrets his decision and understands that he needs to earn back the public’s confidence.
“It was a significant error in judgment, a dumb, dumb mistake,” Phillips said. “Again, I apologize for it, I regret it, but all I can do now is make that apology and move forward.”
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said there must be accountability for Phillips’ “deliberate disregard” for public health rules.
“There shouldn’t be one rulebook for the Ford government, and a different rulebook for everyone else,” he said.
Phillips, 55, entered public life in 2017 when he was acclaimed as the Progressive Conservative candidate for the Ontario riding of Ajax.
He briefly contemplated a run for the leadership of the party after then leader Patrick Brown resigned in early 2018 but instead backed Caroline Mulroney, who eventually lost to Ford.
Phillips won a seat in the legislature later that year and was appointed environment minister as the new government dismantled the previous Liberal’s cap-and-trade climate change plan.
He was tasked with rolling out the province’s controversial new strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fall.
Prior to entering politics, Phillips was the CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and chairman of newspaper publisher Postmedia.
He also served as chief of staff to former Progressive Conservative labour minister Elizabeth Witmer and former Toronto mayor Mel Lastman.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 31, 2020.
The Canadian Press