Ontario minister Rod Phillips resigns, not running for next election

Rod Phillips watches as he delivers baked goods and coffee to frontline health workers at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on November 5, 2020.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s Minister of Long-Term Care, Rod Phillips, is stepping down and leaving politics, even as a massive wave of COVID-19 outbreaks threatens once again vulnerable residents of nursing homes in the province, where nearly 4,000 have died from the virus.

The sudden departure, announced on social media platform Twitter late Friday afternoon, comes just over a year after 56-year-old Mr. Phillips — once a contender for leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party — was forced to resign as finance minister after defying pandemic guidelines and vacationing on the Caribbean island of St Barts.

He was reinstated in cabinet in June and led new legislation aimed at improving long-term care facilities, which have been ravaged by COVID-19 and where some residents have faced appalling conditions and neglect.

On Friday, as county houses listed more new virus outbreaks than ever before and left more deaths, he said he told Prime Minister Doug Ford and PC Party President Brian Patterson that he was resigning and leaving his position as MPP for Ajax. east of Toronto next month for the general election in June.

He said the departure would allow Mr Ford to appoint a new minister and pick a new PC candidate for driving. Mr Phillips, who did not respond to a request for comment, said in his Twitter statement that he would seek new opportunities in the private sector.

“I want to recognize Premier Ford’s strong leadership. Through what is arguably the greatest challenge of our lives, the global COVID-19 pandemic, he has always put what is best for the people of Ontario first,” Mr Phillips said in his statement. “I remain convinced Ontarios will re-election its government in the upcoming elections.”

During his short tenure as Minister for Long-term Care, Mr. Phillips oversees a massive program to begin building new homes and refurbishing the county’s aging facilities.

Mr Phillips announced his departure as the Omicron strain of the coronavirus propelled chronic long-term care staff shortages into crisis once again. According to Ontario’s latest situational report, 411 of the province’s 626 homes are fighting an active outbreak of COVID-19.

“This is the highest number we’ve ever had, and we haven’t even peaked yet,” Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics for the University Health Network and Sinai Health System in Toronto, said in an interview. “It is the ultimate disappointment that one of the government’s brightest ministers has been put in charge of handling this dossier on a day when Ontario has never seen so many long-term care facilities amid a COVID-19 outbreak.”

The highly contagious Omicron variant has sickened 2,140 long-term care residents and 3,830 employees. Since mid-December, 64 residents have died from COVID-19, bringing the total to 3,893.

Several other MPPs have said they plan to stop driving. Such announcements usually come in the months leading up to a provincial campaign. Unlike mr. Phillips, most stay in line until their replacement takes over.

The prime minister’s office released a statement on Twitter thanking Mr Phillips for his “tiring work” as MPP and long-term care minister. Spokespersons for the prime minister did not respond to questions about who would replace Mr Phillips in the portfolio.

Mr. Ford’s office announced late Friday that Paul Calandra, the head of the government building and the Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, would also take on the long-term care portfolio.

Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said Mr Phillips’ departure as long-term care secretary amid a new COVID-19 crisis was a “total renunciation of leadership and a sign of sheer chaos in the Conservative Party.” from Ford.” He said Ontarians “feel abandoned by Doug Ford and his administration, and Secretary Phillips’ abrupt departure is just another example.”

NDP deputy leader and long-term care critic Sara Singh said Omicron’s rise put residents at risk just as Mr Phillips decided to leave, noting that he had been appointed during the pandemic.

“This is not the first time the long-term care minister’s government has changed when residents were in the midst of a crisis, and people fear seniors will fall through the cracks again while the Ford government is in disarray,” said Ms Singh. . in a statement.

Several advocacy groups led by the Ontario Health Coalition on Friday called on the government to implement emergency measures, including the deployment of Canadian Forces teams, to address a critical and growing staffing crisis in long-term care homes and hospitals.

Phillips, who withdrew from the 2018 leadership contest and supported Ford rival Caroline Mulroney, was chief of staff to Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman in the early 2000s, an aide to former PC Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Witmer and a campaign aide for the then PC leader John Tory’s 2007 provincial election bid. A former CEO of Shepell-fgi (now Morneau Shepell), he was named president and CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in 2011. and later became chairman of Postmedia. In 2018 he was elected PC MPP for Ajax for the first time.

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