Ontario’s finance minister left country for personal trip earlier this month as COVID-19 case counts surged

TORONTO — Finance Minister Rod Phillips left the country for a personal trip earlier this month and remains abroad, even as health officials plead with Ontarians to only venture outside of their homes for essential purposes.

In a statement provided to Newstalk 1010 on Tuesday, Phillips said that he and his wife departed on a previously planned trip outside of Canada sometime following the end of the legislative session on Dec. 8.

While it is not precisely clear when Phillips actually departed for his trip, a photo posted to Instagram would seem to indicate that he was still in the country on Dec. 11. At a news conference one day prior to that, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said that he had “great concerns” about people travelling internationally over the holidays, especially to areas with higher levels of transmission.

“I think you really need to weigh that out and consider not going…” he said at the time.

When Phillips left the country Toronto and Peel were already placed under a lockdown and case counts were surging in a number of other jurisdictions.

In his statement, Phillips said that he would have cancelled the trip had he been “aware then of the eventual Dec. 26th province wide shutdown.”

His office told Newstalk 1010 that he remains outside of the country as of Tuesday.

He said that while abroad he has continued to work daily as the Minister of Finance and MPP for Ajax and has participated in “dozens of digital ministry, constituency and cabinet committee calls and meetings.

Phillips has also been active on social media in recent weeks. On Dec. 24 he took to Twitter to thank healthcare workers, writing “as we all make sacrifices this Christmas, remember that some of our fellow citizens won’t even be home for Christmas dinner over Zoom.”

Phillips office has so far refused to say whether the finance minister has returned to Canada but in his statement, he did say that he will “continue to observe public health directives, including the 14-day quarantine.”

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