Rod Phillips informed Ford's senior staff he would be in St. Barts days before trip, emails show
TORONTO -- The chief of staff and deputy chief of staff to Premier Doug Ford were notified that former Finance Minister Rod Phillips' would not be in Toronto days before his trip to St. Barts.
Emails obtained by the Ontario Liberal Party show that on Dec. 4, Andrew Sidnell, then Phillips' chief of staff, wrote to James Wallace, Ford's chief of staff, that the minister "will not be in Toronto and not available in person" between Dec. 12 and Jan. 19. The email was also sent to Simone Daniels, the Premier's deputy chief of staff.
"He will be completely available via teleconference, teams, zoom, etc. and will still be attending cabinet meetings virtually. I think he will let the Premier know directly as well," Sidnell wrote in the email.
The Globe and Mail first reported the emails on Thursday. The Liberal Party later provided CP24 with a copy of those emails they obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
It sheds new light on the controversy surrounding Phillips' trip to St. Barts in December that led to his resignation from his key cabinet role.
Phillips departed on a personally paid trip to St. Barts on Dec. 13, following the end of the legislative session on Dec. 8. His trip was met with outrage as public health officials pleaded with Ontarians to only leave their homes for essential purposes amid surging second wave cases.
The federal government had also been advising Canadians to avoid all non-essential travel for months.
In a statement to CP24 Friday morning, a spokesperson from Ford's office said no further information was requested from Phillips after they learned that he would not be in Toronto for some time.
"Mr. Phillips informed the Premier’s Office that he would not be in Toronto, but available through virtual means. No further detail was requested by our office as it’s common for ministers to participate in meetings virtually during COVID and the legislature was not sitting at the time," the statement read.
"Over the summer months, with the legislature not sitting and members back in their ridings, it’s not unusual for elected officials – like all Ontarians – to spend time away from the office with their families."
Although the emails suggest that Phillips intended to inform Ford, the Ajax MPP had said that he did not tell the premier about the trip because Ford had better things to do.
After the news about the trip broke, Ford admitted that he only knew about the trip when Phillips was already in St. Barts. The premier said Phillips "never told anyone he was leaving."
Philips said he chose to go ahead with the trip, not knowing the province would be placed under lockdown on Boxing Day.
While he was away, Phillips' office released a series of tweets and Instagram posts, including one where he sat next to a gingerbread house and a glass of eggnog and thanked healthcare workers dealing with packed hospitals, as "we all make sacrifices this Christmas."
"It was a significant error in judgment – a dumb, dumb mistake, I apologize for it, I regret it," Phillips said upon his return to Toronto.
It was also revealed at the time that Phillips travelled to Switzerland in August.
According to the emails, Sidnell informed Daniels about his boss' trip.
"Just wanted to give you a heads up that Minister Phillips is planning to be away from August 15th-September 8th," Sidnell wrote in a July 14, 2020 email.
Speaking to CP24 Thursday evening, Liberal leader Steven Del Duca called the revelations "disgusting."
"The emails make it quite clear that what Doug Ford told the people of Ontario back in December about what he knew and when he knew it was, in fact, not the truth. That his office and the emails imply, he himself knew well in advance of Rod Phillips' departure from Canada. That the trip was going to be taking place that Rod would be leaving the Toronto area during a lockdown when at the same time that Doug Ford was telling the people of Ontario that they shouldn't be travelling that they shouldn't be leaving home," Del Duca said.
"This is about a pattern of deceit that we have seen from Doug Ford consistently during this pandemic."
Del Duca said when he served in Kathleen Wynne's cabinet, there was a standard process in place so that the premier knew the ministers' whereabouts.
"It's not acceptable. It's not leadership. And it's something that I know is deeply discouraging to the people of this province," he said.
"I don't think the people of this province have any trust or confidence left in this Premier. That's why I've repeatedly said it's time for him to go, and today's revelation about what he knew and when he knew it, and how he misled the people of Ontario is a clear indication that it is time for Doug Ford to go."