Ontario finance minister arrives back in Canada after much-criticized vacation abroad

Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips has arrived back home after a much-criticized vacation abroad despite strict coronavirus pandemic lockdown measures in the province.

Phillips landed at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport Thursday morning. He had been vacationing on the Caribbean island of St. Barts since Dec. 13.

Read more: Doug Ford says he knew of finance minister’s trip 2 weeks ago, should have asked him to return then

Doug Ford said Wednesday he intends to have a “very tough conversation” with Phillips upon the minister’s return.

Ford is facing pressure to remove Phillips from his caucus due to the trip, which opposition members have said violated the province’s health measures instructing Ontarians to avoid non-essential travel.

Click to play video 'The political fallout of the Rod Phillips controversy' The political fallout of the Rod Phillips controversy

The political fallout of the Rod Phillips controversy

Phillips’s return also comes after the federal government announced new travel rules due to the pandemic, including requiring all returning travellers to obtain a negative COVID-19 test three days before arrival.

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The new rules are expected to come into effect in the next few days, meaning Phillips did not need to provide a negative test upon his arrival. However, he must still self-isolate for 14 days under existing federal guidelines.

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Phillips, who also serves as the member of the Provincial Parliament for Ajax, said in a statement Tuesday that he left on a trip to St. Barts after the end of the legislative session.

Read more: Ontario finance minister to return to Canada after backlash over St. Barts holiday

The minister said he made the decision to travel not knowing the province would be placed under lockdown on Boxing Day, and “deeply regrets” the move.

His office did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday.

Ford said Wednesday he learned roughly two weeks ago that Phillips had left the country and should have pushed for the minister’s immediate return.

Click to play video 'Ford says he should have asked Phillips to return earlier' Ford says he should have asked Phillips to return earlier

Ford says he should have asked Phillips to return earlier

He said Phillips “never told anyone” he was going to St. Barts, but it came to light quickly.

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“I did call him shortly after he arrived and I talked to him and asked where he was. He said he was away,” the premier said.

“My mistake. I take full responsibility. At that time, I should have said, ‘get your backside back to Ontario,’ and I didn’t do that.”

Ford said Tuesday he had told Phillips to return to Ontario “immediately.”

—With files from the Canadian Press

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

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