Ontario’s finance minister out of the country on ‘personal trip’ despite pleas to stay home

Ontario’s Finance Minister Rod Phillips is currently out of the country for a personal trip, despite the province urging residents to stay home due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in Ontario and across the world.

Read more: Ontario enters provincewide lockdown in effort to curb rising coronavirus case counts

In a statement released Tuesday, Phillips noted that he and his wife left Dec. 13, after the end of the legislative session, on a “previously planned trip outside of the country.”

“Had I been aware then of the eventual Dec. 26th province-wide shutdown, we would have canceled the trip,” the statement said.

On Dec. 21, Premier Doug Ford announced that a four-week lockdown would sweep across the province starting Boxing Day.

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Phillips has not made it clear where he travelled to, or when he will be back, but noted that he was able to continue his work as minister of finance and MPP for Ajax remotely.

Click to play video 'Ontario’s lockdown timeline sparks criticism and concern' Ontario’s lockdown timeline sparks criticism and concern

Ontario’s lockdown timeline sparks criticism and concern

There are currently no provincial travel restrictions in Ontario, but federal travel restrictions require anyone travelling into Canada to quarantine for two weeks once back in the country.

“We will continue to observe public health directives, including the 14 day quarantine,” he finished.

Although not technically breaking any restrictions, government officials have been pleading with Ontarians to stay home in order to prevent the spread of the virus. During a press conference Nov. 25, Ford urged Ontarians to stick within their own households for the holidays.

On Christmas Eve, Phillips tweeted about many people making sacrifices over the holiday season, especially front-line workers who may be dealing with the effects of the pandemic.

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Several photos of Phillips out and about in the Durham region were posted to social media after Dec. 13.

Phillips’ office clarified that any photos posted after Dec. 13 were taken before he left for his trip.

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This is not the first time an Ontario politician has seemingly broken with provincial messaging on COVID-19. In late October, MPP for Niagara West Sam Oosterhoff was forced to apologize after taking a photo with about 40 unmasked people at a family event.

Click to play video 'Controversy over Ontario MPP not physical distancing or wearing mask in photo continues' Controversy over Ontario MPP not physical distancing or wearing mask in photo continues

Controversy over Ontario MPP not physical distancing or wearing mask in photo continues – Oct 28, 2020

Ford also admitted to having his daughters visit his home on Mother’s Day this year, while the province was urging people not to meet with their loved ones.

NDP Deputy Leader Sara Singh referenced both of these incidents in a statement released Tuesday, pushing Ford not to give Phillips a “free pass” for leaving the country.

“Doug Ford let Sam Oosterhoff off the hook when he held a big family shindig. Ford let himself off the hook for gathering with family when he told the rest of us we can’t. These guys just think the rules don’t apply to them,” Singh said.

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Ontario reported 1,939 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday and a single-day record of 2,553 new cases on Tuesday. The provincial total now stands at 175,908.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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