Premier Doug Ford has a blunt message for his jet-setting finance minister: Get your butt home, ASAP.
Ford released a statement on Tuesday evening, expressing his displeasure after Rod Phillips admitted to taking a vacation out of Canada with his wife earlier this month. He has yet to return home.
It’s a trip that flies in the face of the Ford government’s incessant messaging that Ontarians stay home and avoid non-essential travel in the midst of the rapidly-spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
The Premier knows the optics are bad.
“At a time when every Ontarian has been asked to make sacrifices, I am extremely disappointed in Minister Phillips and his decision to travel abroad,” Ford said.
But he didn’t just wag his finger at Phillips — he ordered him to cut his trip short and return to his duties.
“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. I have also told the minister I need him back in the country immediately.
“The only way we will beat COVID-19 is by following the advice provided by our public health experts. Public officials are no exception.”
Earlier Tuesday, Phillips released a statement admitting that the trip with his wife was for “personal reasons.”
He added more later Tuesday:
“I deeply regret travelling over the holidays,” he wrote. “It was a mistake and I apologize. I left on a personally paid for trip to St. Barts on December 13 following the end of the Legislative Session.
“I am making arrangements to return to Ontario immediately and will begin a 14 day quarantine as soon as I arrive.”
On its website, the federal government advises all Canadians to “avoid non-essential travel outside of Canada and all travel on cruise ships outside Canada until further notice.”
Ontario health officials have also urged all citizens to avoid non-essential travel as it deals with record numbers of infections and soaring deaths amid a second-wave of the virus.
Ontario’s Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, wouldn’t comment specifically on Phillips’ travels but said Tuesday that the messaging remains clear and unchanged.
“The public health advice has been and continues to be not to travel outside of the country unless it’s absolutely essential.”
Early last week, the Ford government announced that the rest of Ontario would join Toronto, Peel Region, York Region, Windsor-Essex and Hamilton into a lockdown starting on Boxing Day, in an effort to bring soaring COVID-19 cases under control.