Yesterdays story around Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips deciding to flaunt all of the rules regarding COVID, lockdowns and travel has touched a nerve with many Canadians, and for very good reason. This is very much an example of the worst kind of “Do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy, and at probably the worst of times. Coming into this pandemic it’s not like Doug Ford and his Ontario Conservative government were known for their forthrightness, honesty and ability to manage a basic message.
You surely can’t say that the majority of Ontarians had a great deal of trust built up in this government. After scandal after scandal for two years, Ford and Co. had managed to plumb new depths in poor management, which build to erode whatever trust was there. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, a crisis that would hinge on and require massive amounts of public trust in order for Ontario’s response to be effective. While it can be said that early in the crisis, Ford did buckle down and build some of that with general competence combined with a serious toning down of his sharp partisan nature.
But since the Spring, that had been changing as Ford and his government were reverting to previous form. We’ve seen mixed messaging, more pointing fingers of blame at others rather than accepting responsibility and a lot of the usual stuff that does the polar opposite of building trust. Despite that fact, for the most part we haven’t seen a single incident that could threaten to blow that all apart, but yesterday changed that. This whole Phillips fiasco threatens to be such an incident, especially if Ford fumbles the response. As I pointed out yesterday, there is only one right answer to that question, which involves removing Rod Phillips from cabinet. In the past 18 hours or so we have seen Ford’s response and it’s as unfortunate as much as it is predictable:
Amazing folks, seriously amazing. Ford gave him a “stern talking to” and told him to get his butt home, wagged his finger while warning that it “will not be tolerated again”. Ford told us all that he’s “disappointed” in his Finance Minister, which appears to pass as the worst possible thing that can happen to a member of his team for anything. It also falls seriously short of the mark, considering how he’s rightly teed off of members of the general public for flaunting the most basic of COVID rules. Yet still in doing this, Ford managed to create more incredulity with another part noted above. He claimed that he didn’t know that Phillips was out of the country at all, which is something that is unbelievable for any person who’s ever worked for an elected official in this country on Parliament Hill or a major provincial legislature. Party whips know their members schedules and those elected folks need to get “permission” to take trips like the one that Phillips took. The reasons for this are legit, especially in emergency times like these when you might need to recall a legislature. You want to make sure you can have the butts in seats if you’re going to call everyone back. So the idea that Ford and his team didn’t know where Phillips was never passed the smell test. That brought us to todays “clarifications”, which raised more very legitimate questions all of their own:
Yes, now Ford is saying he did know, but only for the past two weeks. That means he’s now claiming hat he knew after Philips left the country, which also still strains credulity for the reason mentioned above, but adds another layer of crap to this. Ford knew that he was out of the country. He knew that Phillips region of Durham that he represents part of was in the red and had been since November 23rd. Ford knew all of this while Phillips’ team was posting those Tweets that tried to make it look like he was actually in Ajax. Ford also knew how bad it would look if any of his MPPs were caught away from home, let alone a cabinet minister, let alone his Number 2. Yet with all of this on the table, Ford didn’t tell him to get his behind home the moment he knew. He didn’t tell him to get back in the country in that five-day period between Ford’s announcement of the lockdown to when it actually started. It appears that by his own words and admissions, he did absolutely nothing of the sort.
Nope, he let it slide, which I’m sure must be adding to his deep disappointment in Phillips, who Ford made sure not to scold or get back into the country before it all blew up in their faces. It helps to note what exactly Ford and his team were saying to the public at the time because they create a seriously big problem for this government now in the current light:
Yeah folks, that just looks like some of the worst kind of hypocrisy at the worst possible time. There you see day after day that Phillips was out of the country, and Ford knew, that he and his ministers were going before the cameras telling people to stay home, hunker down, do their part and alike. Then you had Ford’s obsession with airports and international travel, despite the fact that a tiny minority of the cases we see now came from international travelers not being tested. Still Ford decided to take pot shots at Ottawa, saying that they were being “ignored” by the feds on this concern, all while his own Finance Minister was doing a Hell of a lot of ignoring all on his own, with the apparent approval of his boss Doug.
I say “apparent approval” because once Ford found out and did nothing to punish Phillips or get his ass back in the country ASAP, Ford basically said he was alright that he stayed put. The way that this looks now, thanks to Ford’s comments, his altered comments and the new details of this timeline is that Ford didn’t have a problem with this until the media caught it and it blew up in his face. In that airport press conference, Ford clearly said, as he has many times elsewhere, that we can’t have one rule for one set of people and something else for everyone else. He’s actually right about that; in this case, following the rules and ensuring that they are being enforced is literally a life and death matter for thousands of Ontarians. Yet with his actions in the past 24 hours, Ford has created the exact set up he said that we can’t accept. He’s created the same situation that he accused Ottawa of creating with an issue that he tried to make into a political strawman.
That’s exactly why there was only one acceptable option for Ford in this case; he had to fire Phillips and boot him from Cabinet. He had to make an example of him because his offense here was just that bad. But now we know more about why he didn’t do that. Because Ford himself knew too and his sin of having said nothing at all is just as bad in the eyes of many. That would likely require the same kind of judgement. That was never going to happen because for all of his big talk about accountability, Ford’s never shown that he believes that he and his own party should be subject to any such thing.
As a result of his inaction here, Ford has managed to seriously undermine people’s confidence in not only the COVID measures, but their confidence that they will be enforced across the board. And he managed to do this on the same day that Ontario announced that he nearly surpassed 3,000 new daily COVID cases, a lowly new record. In a year of low points, Ford has managed to create a new low today and, in the process, further undermined his governments attempt to stop this pandemic in its tracks.