It’s a cold late Friday afternoon in January, so naturally it’s the perfect time to resign from a high-level provincial cabinet position with a minimum of attention from the media. This must have been the thinking for Rod Phillips, Ontario’s Long Term Care Minister, who posted to social media on Friday that he’s resigning from the Ontario Legislature, and is not running for re-eletion this June.
“I have spoken with Premier Ford and with Brian Patterson, President of the Ontario PC Party to inform them of my decision not to seek re-election and to step down next month as the MPP for Ajax,” Phillips said in a statement. “This will allow the Premier to appoint a successor to continue the important work of the Ministry of Long-Term Care. It also ensures that the PC Party has the time needed to nominate a candidate in Ajax and prepare for the Provincial election.”
The timing for a shake up at the head of the long-term care ministry is precarious. On Friday, Public Health Ontario reported that there were 14 new outbreaks in long-term care homes, bringing the number of homes in Ontario with ongoing outbreaks up to 411. There were an additional 272 individual cases of COVID-19 in long-term care homes on Friday, and 11 new deaths reported.
“This is not the first time the government has changed long-term care ministers when residents were in the middle of a crisis, and people are worried seniors will fall through the cracks again while the Ford government is in disarray,” said NDP Deputy Leader and Long-Term Care critic Sara Singh in a statement following Phillips’ announcement. “Omicron won’t wait for Doug Ford to get his house in order.”
Of course, this is not the first time that controversy has found Phillips during the pandemic. In 2020, when he was still the Minister of Finance, Phillips was outed for taking a tropical vacation while the number of COVID cases was growing into the second wave, and for even trying to cover it up while on a Zoom call with constituents. Phillips was forced to resign as Finance Minster, but he was elevated to cabinet again just six months later, this time as Minister of Long-Term Care.
Phillips won his race in Ajax in 2018, the first time he stood for election after turns working in government as a chief of staff for Elizabeth Witmer and Mel Lastman, as well as working as a staffer for John Tory when he was PC leader in 2007. Mostly though, Phillips has been a businessman, working in venture capital and other businesses, serving as CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and as board chair of Postmedia.
Phillips didn’t (publicly) give a reason for why we has stepping down now, but he did indicate that he’s exchanging the cabinet room for the board room once again. “I have always considered public service a privilege and it has been an honour to serve as the MPP for Ajax and in three Cabinet portfolios. That said, my professional life has been spent in the business world and I look forward to returning to the private sector,” Phillips said in his release.
Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner hasn’t publicly commented on Phillips’ resignation yet, but about 30 minutes before the minister’s social media post, Schreiner called on the government to do more for long-term care by bring in the Canadian Forces, repealing Bill 124, making ventilation improvements, distributing N95 masks to staff, and phasing out for-profit care.
“Over 50 per cent of Ontario LTC facilities are in outbreak. Homes are understaffed, and residents are suffering,” Schreiner said. “It is unconscionable that the Ford government hasn’t learned from the tragic humanitarian crisis that unfolded in LTC homes last year. Enough is enough.”