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.
Except that Phillips was enjoying a Caribbean vacation at the time on the French island of St. Barts, a popular spot for the rich and famous. His Twitter account had suggested he was in snowbound Ontario for weeks but the truth has since surfaced that he's been in sunny St. Barts since Dec. 13.
Now Phillips has been ordered to return to Ontario where Premier Doug Ford said he’s going to have a “very tough conversation” with Phillips on Thursday. Oppositions parties and the health officials are calling for Phillips to be fired from Cabinet.
Ford claimed Phillips “never told anyone” he was leaving but Ford said he knew Phillips was out of the country “shortly after he arrived.”
“I should have said ‘Get your backside back into Ontario’ and I didn’t do that,” Ford said.
Phillips said in a statement he “deeply” regretted traveling and cut short his vacation.
Ontario began a province-wide lockdown on Dec. 26 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.
“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 yesterday,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto.
Wiseman said Phillips should resign. “That would be the honorable thing to do but honor is in short supply these days in the political world,” he said.
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 Wednesday with 2,923, with just over one-third of them in the country’s largest city of Toronto.
“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. More details are expected to be released on Thursday.
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.