2020 is close to an end and we’ve been going through one of the hardest years that we’ve faced in generations. We’ve seen a global pandemic hit us, hurting not just public health but seriously hurting our economy and communities. People have lost work, are seeing their small businesses go under, are losing their homes and we know that the worst is still yet to come. Governments have had to take serious yet difficult steps to try to get COVID-19 under control, and in doing so, are counting on so many of us to do our part to do this.
The key to all of this response is the good will of we citizens to do our part, something that society has been struggling with the further that this has gone along. Aside from the usual anti-vaxxer, anti-masker and others who are usually on the fringes of society egging people on, we’ve seen more people deciding to simply ignore the rules and put the lives of innocent people at risk, all while ensuring that we’ll need harder measures for longer.
With that being the case, of course we look to government and elected officials to set the good example. If they are asking us to follow the rules in good faith, surely one of the best ways they can encourage us to do this is to follow the rules themselves. Yet today we’ve got a story out in the news that’s just so egregious that it’s roused me from my Holiday blogging slumber. It’s egregious because of the acts involved, and they’re made even worse because of who did and is still doing them. Who is it you might ask? Well none other than Ontario’s most senior ministers:
Everyone, I cannot lie, I livid right now. I’m pissed to the power of “f*ck off”. Rod Phillips is Ontario’s Finance Minister, a role so senior that only the Premier essential is bigger. Phillips has long been talking about a leadership material in some circles, something that an episode like this will make many question. This isn’t some lightweight junior minister, parliamentary secretary or anonymous backbencher. This is the second most senior elected official in the current government of the largest province in this country and of one of the largest economies on the continent.
There are many reasons why this story is so terrible and has me so pissed. First off is the clear hypocrisy of him travelling while the whole province is in some form of lockdown. Yes, he left the country before the lockdowns came but he himself is an MPP for Ajax, in Durham Region. Durham Region was moved it to the Red Zone on November 23rd, weeks before he left the country, which meant that his constituents and home community already effectively in one of the worst situations. A full lockdown was more than foreseeable for anyone living in the region, let alone for the second highest ranking elected official in Ontario, who we can safely assume had a bit more inside info about what might be coming than the rest of us.
So while his constituents were dealing with the full brunt of COVID and the stronger measures that came with the Red designation, he decided to go on vacay. To where? Well no one seems to know because he didn’t tell the public that he was doing this. Media have been on the story all day and still we have no idea where in the world Finance Minister Carmen Sandiego is. Is he in another COVID hotspot? Is he putting himself at greater risk? Is he somewhere where he might be exposed to a more dangerous variant on COVID, like the one from the UK? Not only is this a matter for public health, but there’s the more usual, mundane concern about the potential risks for the guy who is in charge of such a large economy and the real-world effect of what could happen if he gets sick or worse. And with all those unanswered questions, we still don’t know when he’s coming back. Dude is still on vacay, and I guess that the pesky news of this getting out won’t stop it. But if that wasn’t bad enough, the next detail blows my mind and looks all the worse. While he was out of the country on a COVID vacation, ignoring public health measures that his government has been asking us all to follow, his Twitter account was giving a very different impression of what he was up to:
Yeah, if you believed those Tweets you’d think that Phillips was safe and sound at home, following the rules. If you believed those Tweets, you’d think that he understood the importance of this difficult moment. He literally posted Tweets talking about all the sacrifices we must make this Christmas, seemingly giving the impression that he himself was also making those same sacrifices. Hell, he even recorded a video (assumedly before he left the country) where he talked about how this would be such a different Christmas for everyone, talking about how we couldn’t be in person with family and friends and all the lot. There was actual planning involved here, actual work from staffers paid by we the taxpayer, to give the impression that he was following the rules too. That should tell you about the state of mind involved here and just how much worse that this is.
This wasn’t a mistake, or a momentary lapse of judgement. This was planned to the point where they had bloody social media content produced and scheduled to run, telling people to do one thing while he did the other. Those posts made claims that he was feeling everyone else’s pain, all while he had a vacation that the vast majority of us could only dream about in our wildest dreams at this point. While we were all doing our part, not seeing those who we love, not doing our usual family traditions and making the best that we could of this awful situation, Phillips was in another country taking a vacation, surely tired from all of that COVID relief funding that he received from Ottawa that he hasn’t spent on actual COVID relief.
There are certain offenses that in the best of times are a fireable offence for any cabinet minister. They usually involved the kind of stunning lack of judgement that this story screams about. But we are not in the best of times, we’re in quite the opposite. That fact makes this who sordid story that much worse, that much more offensive and that much more of a firing offence. How in the Hell can Doug Ford retain any credibility with the people of Ontario, the people who he says he’s all about, if his Number 2 can get away with this crap with his job intact? Ford has told us so many times in press conferences how “yahoos” and such who have been ignoring COVID protocols have mad him so mad, so surely that same anger and desire for consequences must also be true for his Finance Minister, right?
This whole story is going to make for a critical moment not just for the Ford government but for Ontario’s COVID response. Many people’s nerves are frayed and that only promises to get worse in the weeks ahead. We’re all making serious sacrifices to do our part to fight this disease, but it feels like more and more people are ready to break, throw their hands up and stop trying. This is the kind of story, if not responded to properly, could break the dam on that. If someone of the power, stature and importance of the Finance Minister isn’t made to feel serious consequences for this crap, that could be the straw that breaks the camels back for too many. We’ll see what Ford does but the answer here should be clear; Rod Phillips should be removed from cabinet ASAP. That’s just how bad this case really is, as this government tells us to do as they say, not as they apparently do.