Premier Doug Ford is shuffling his cabinet, with former finance minister Rod Phillips — who resigned from his post following a Caribbean vacation during the COVID-19 pandemic — returning as the new minister of long-term care.
CBC News has learned that Phillips will replace Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, who will now serve as the minister of children, community and social services, according to a PC party source.
The move is part of a large-scale shuffle, which comes with just under a year to go before the next provincial election. The changes have not yet been announced officially, but are expected sometime Friday afternoon.
The Opposition NDP slammed Phillips’s return to cabinet even before it was announced, with ethics and accountability critic Taras Natyshak saying in a statement that Ford kept Phillips “near and dear to him even after his elaborate St. Barts vacation coverup.
“Phillips jetted off to luxurious St. Barts, covering up his tracks as he went with pre-written messages, pre-recorded Christmas greetings, and a fake Zoom background, while the rest of Ontario hunkered down and followed public health advice to stay home over the holidays,” Natyshak said.
Phillips apologized late last year for leaving the country on Dec. 13 for a personal trip even as health officials pleaded with Ontarians to only venture outside of their homes for essential purposes. Phillips’s office also previously told CBC News that the minister had taken a trip to Switzerland last August.
Days after he had departed on his trip, Phillips’s office posted a series of tweets for the minister that seemed to give the impression he was home for the holidays.
The posts included a video of Phillips sitting next to a fireplace, thanking Ontarians for protecting the most vulnerable, and a previously taken photo of him holding local maple syrup to celebrate National Maple Syrup Day.
At the time of his resignation, Phillips said that travelling over the holidays was “the wrong decision,” and that he offered an “unreserved apology.”