Ontario premier raps minister for holiday trip to St. Barts

TORONTO (AP) — The premier of Canada’s most populous province announced Tuesday night that he ordered his finance minister to end a Caribbean vacation, saying he is “extremely disappointed” the official went abroad as the government urged people to avoid nonessential travel because of the pandemic.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement that it was “completely unacceptable” that Finance Minister Rod Phillips went to the French island of St. Barts for the holidays.

“At a time when every Ontarian has been asked to make sacrifices, I am extremely disappointed in Minister Phillips and his decision to travel abroad,” Ford said.

The premier’s announcement came after news reports earlier Tuesday that Phillips was out of the country, though his vacation spot wasn’t known.

Ford said he told Phillips to return immediately from St. Barts, which is a popular vacation spot for the rich and famous over the Christmas holidays.

“I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize,” Phillips said in a statement. “I left on a personally paid for trip to St. Barts on December 13 following the end of the legislative session.”

Phillips said he was returning immediately and would undergo a 14-day quarantine as required.

On Christmas Eve, Phillips had tweeted: “As we all make sacrifices this #Christmas, remember that some of our fellow citizens won’t even be home for Christmas dinner over Zoom.”

Ontario began a provincewide lockdown on Dec. 26 and Ford has been blaming travelers for bringing the coronavirus to the province.

Canada’s national government and the Ontario government have both repeatedly asked Canadians not to travel abroad during the pandemic when the country is reporting record numbers of infections.

The Ford government already was being criticized for halting vaccination operations over the holidays.

Retired Gen. Rick Hillier, appointed by Ford to to lead Ontario’s vaccine program, said it was wrong to close the clinics for Christmas Day and the holiday on Dec. 26.

“We’ve heard the voices of the people of Ontario saying, ‘Get on with this,’ and that’s what we are going to do,” he said. “We will not take any more days off.”

Health officials have also criticized Ford’s decision to delay the provincewide lockdown until the day after Christmas.

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