In a major pre-election setback for Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips is stepping down from politics.
Phillips, a key cabinet minister who has represented Ajax since 2018, announced on Friday that he will not stand in the June 2 election.
“I have spoken with Premier Ford and with Brian Patterson, Chairman of the PC Party of Ontario, to inform them of my decision not to run again and to resign next month as MPP for Ajax” , Phillips, 56, said in a written statement.
“This will allow the Prime Minister 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 it needs to nominate a candidate for Ajax and prepare for the provincial elections,” he said.
“I have always considered public service a privilege and it has been an honor to serve as MPP for Ajax and in three ministerial portfolios. That said, my working life has been in the business world and I am looking forward to returning to the private sector.
His surprise departure is a political blow for Ford, coming just 20 weeks before what opinion polls suggest could be a close election.
At Twitter, the premier thanked Phillips “for his tireless work representing the people of Ajax and advancing important and needed improvements in Ontario’s long-term care system.”
“I want to wish him and Lydia the best in their next chapter. I’m confident there are great things to come for Rod,” said Ford, who on Friday evening named Paul Calandra Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader, also Minister of Long-Term Care.
For his part, Phillips praised the Prime Minister’s “strong leadership… through what is arguably the greatest challenge of our lifetimes, the global COVID-19 pandemic.”
“He always put forward the best for Ontarians. I remain confident that Ontarians will re-elect his government in the next election,” he said.
Since taking over the struggling Ministry of Long-Term Care last June, Phillips has been credited with helping improve pandemic-ravaged nursing homes across Ontario, which suffered greatly in the early waves. of COVID-19. But about half of all nursing homes are currently battling outbreaks as the highly contagious variant of Omicron spreads.
As well as joining ministry inspectors in spot checks on homes, he implemented a mandatory vaccination policy for all staff and ensured big increases in operating budgets and infrastructure investment in a long-running field. overlooked by successive governments of all political stripes.
“Our work together has been the most meaningful of my time as Crown Minister,” Phillips said of the long-term care sector.
“Together, we’ve protected residents with the toughest legislation and enforcement in the country, launched the largest long-term care building program ever in Canada, and invested in training and hiring tens of thousands of new frontline health workers. While continuing to do everything in our power to vaccinate and protect residents and staff through this latest wave of the global pandemic. »
But NDP MP Sara Singh (Brampton Centre) said Phillips’ resignation suggests the Ford government is in disarray.
“Outbreaks and staffing shortages are rising again in long-term care homes, leaving residents at risk. This is not the first time the government has changed ministers for long-term care when residents were in the midst of a crisis,” Singh said, referring to former minister Merrilee Fullerton.
Liberal Steven Del Duca said ‘the abrupt departure … when more than half of Ontario’s nursing homes have COVID outbreaks is a complete abdication of leadership and a sign of pure chaos within the Conservative party. of Ford”.
“Doug Ford’s incompetence has turned a health crisis into a leadership crisis,” said Del Duca, who also thanked the minister “for his years of public service.”
Phillips made headlines in December 2020 when he vacationed on the Caribbean island of St. Barths at a time when the federal government was urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel.
Even though the Prime Minister’s Office was aware of the Christmas trip, he resigned as finance minister upon his return to spare Ford further political embarrassment.
But his absence from the executive council coincided with some of the Tories’ most chaotic months of the pandemic, culminating in a marathon two-day cabinet meeting last April when ministers decided to impose spot checks on police and close playgrounds to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Those controversial decisions were overturned the next day amid massive outcry from Ontarians and directly contributed to a disgruntled Ford reshuffling his cabinet weeks later and handing Phillips the difficult long-term care file. .
A successful business leader before entering elected politics, Phillips served as president of Postmedia, parent company of the National Post and the Toronto Sun, and in 2011 was named president and CEO of Ontario Lottery and Gaming. by Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty.
In 2014, he succeeded Toronto Mayor John Tory as president of the nonpartisan urban affairs organization CivicAction. He also served as Chief of Staff to Mayor Mel Lastman after the 1998 amalgamation of Old Town Toronto with North York, Etobicoke, Scarborough, York and East York.
Long touted as a potential successor to Ford as leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, Phillips’ retirement is shaking the political landscape as ministers begin to squabble over position in a future leadership race.
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