Canadian Politicians Face Heat for Travelling Amid Lockdown Orders

Canadian Politicians Face Heat for Travelling Amid Lockdown Orders
Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips speaks at a press conference at Queen's Park during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Nov. 3, 2020. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)
Isaac Teo

Two Canadian politicians are facing backlash for ignoring their government’s own health advice by vacationing outside Canada, despite limits on non-essential travel in their home provinces amid the pandemic.

Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips said Dec. 29 he will return home after being criticized for going on vacation to a Caribbean island of St. Barts in mid-December, while Ontarians had to follow public health orders to stay home and limit their travel for only essential purposes.

Phillips and his wife travelled to the Caribbean on Dec. 13—a time when the provincial health officials repeatedly told Ontarians that “staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. Travel out of province should be limited to only essential purposes” according to the Ontario website.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said on Wednesday that Phillips “never told anyone” about his trip, but the premier learned of it shortly after it began, adding that he made the mistake of not asking the minister to return immediately.
After news broke out of his overseas trip and Ford condemning his actions on Tuesday, Phillips responded with an apology in his statement. “I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize,” Phillips said.
He said he and his wife left Canada for a “planned personal trip” on Dec 13 after the provincial legislative session ended on Dec. 8, adding that if he had known Ontario would be placed under a province-wide lockdown on Boxing Day, he would have cancelled the trip.
Ford said on Tuesday he was “extremely disappointed” by Phillips’ decision to travel, in his statement.
“I have let the minister know that his decision to travel is completely unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated again—by him or any member of our cabinet and caucus,” Ford said.
Dr. Carol Campbell, program coordinator for the Educational Leadership and Policy program at University of Toronto, had said on Twitter that Ford not knowing where Phillips was is “unbelievable.”

Phillips said he is now making arrangements to return to Ontario and would begin the 14-day quarantine when he arrives.

Phillips’ apology didn’t go over well with the public. The province’s Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath released a statement Wednesday calling on Ford to remove Phillips from cabinet.

“While the government demands sacrifice from everyday Ontarians, Rod Phillips chose to ignore public health advice, jet off to St. Barts, and create an elaborate cover-up on social media,” Horwath said.

What Horwath referred to are Phillips’ Christmas Eve tweets from his account that made it seem like he’s in Canada while he’s actually having his holiday in the Caribbean.

“Because of his lack of judgment and lack of honesty, Doug Ford must kick Rod Phillips out of cabinet,” Horwath added.

Phillips is not the only politician not following the public health guidelines that the provincial and federal governments require Canadians to observe.

Quebec Liberal member Pierre Arcand is also being asked to return home amid mounting criticism over his decision to vacation in the Caribbean.

A spokesperson for Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade confirmed on Dec. 30 that she has asked Arcand to return home from Barbados as soon as possible.

Arcand, a former interim leader of the party, issued a statement on Dec. 29 saying he regretted his decision to take the trip with his wife and promised to respect the 14-day isolation period required by the federal government for travellers who return from abroad.

Both the federal and provincial governments have warned against non-essential holiday travel, and the Quebec government has asked Ottawa to increase surveillance of returning travellers amid soaring COVID-19 numbers.

Anglade told radio station 98,5 FM this morning that she had known Arcand planned to leave and said she had tried to discourage him from doing so.

She said she should have prohibited members of her party from leaving the country.

Quebec Liberal leader Pierre Arcand speaks to the media during a news conference in Montreal, Canada on April 29, 2020. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
Quebec Liberal leader Pierre Arcand speaks to the media during a news conference in Montreal, Canada on April 29, 2020. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)
It’s not the first time officials have been in hot water for ignoring their own pandemic instructions. In October, a photo of federal health minister Patty Hajdu, was circulated online after Hadju neglected to wear a mask while waiting to catch a flight at the Toronto Pearson Airport, despite her own instructions to Canadians to wear a mask in all public indoor spaces.

Hajdu said she took off her mask only to eat or drink.

With files from The Canadian Press