Premier Doug Ford says he has accepted Rod Phillips’s resignation as minister .
“At a time when the people of Ontario have sacrificed so much, today’s resignation is a demonstration that our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Ford said.
Phillips returned to Ontario this morning after spending more than two weeks in St. Barts despite provincial guidelines urging people to avoid non-essential travel.
Ford says he has asked Treasury Board President Peter Bethlenfalvy to assume the role of minister of finance and deliver the government’s 2021 Budget.
“This appointment will help ensure economic stability in the months ahead, as we support Ontario families, workers and businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we chart our path to long-term economic recovery,” Ford said.
Phillips returned amid a provincial lockdown, and had acknowledged that the decision to go on a personal trip during the pandemic might cost him his job.
He arrived at Toronto Pearson International Airport in the morning after spending more than two weeks abroad, despite provincial guidelines urging people to avoid non-essential travel.
Ford had said earlier Wednesday he would have a “very tough conversation” with Phillips upon his arrival.
Phillips had said he wanted to keep his job.
“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.
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.
“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.”
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.