Ontario Premier Doug Ford reshuffles cabinet, former Finance Minister Rod Phillips – who resigned after vacation in the Caribbean during COVID-19 pandemic – returns as new minister long-term care.

Phillips will replace Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, who will now serve as Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. The move is part of a large-scale reshuffle, which comes just under a year from the next provincial election.

In a statement, Ford said the province was passing the worst of the pandemic.

“As we continue our work to rebuild and support Ontario’s health care system, our renewed team is well positioned to deliver on the priorities that matter to Ontarians, including getting more people back to work,” make life more affordable, support businesses and job creators, and create public transit infrastructure, ”said Ford.

Opposition NPD criticized Phillips’ return to Cabinet before it was even announced, with ethics and accountability critic Taras Natyshak saying in a statement Ford was keeping Phillips “close to him even after his elaborate cover-up vacation rentals in Saint-Barth.

Phillips flew to the luxurious St. Barts, covering his tracks as he went with pre-written messages, pre-recorded Christmas greetings, and a fake Zoom background, while the rest of Ontario was squatting and following public health advice to stay home while on vacation, ”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 not to venture out of their homes until essential purposes. Phillips’ office also previously told CBC News that the minister took a trip to Switzerland last August.

“The wrong decision”

Days after he left for his trip, Phillips’ office posted a series of tweets for the minister that appeared to give the impression he was home for the holidays.

Messages included a video of Phillips sitting by a fireplace thanking Ontarians for protecting the most vulnerable, and a photo previously taken of him holding local maple syrup to celebrate National Maple Syrup Day .

At the time of his resignation, Phillips said traveling during the holidays was “the wrong decision” and that he had issued a “wholehearted apology”.

Speaking to CBC Toronto about his new appointment, Phillips admitted he “made a mistake” when he took his vacation in St. Barts, but added that he was happy to take on his new role as Minister. long-term care.

“I took responsibility for the mistake and quit,” he said. “Now the Prime Minister has asked me to step up again.”

Asked about his experience and qualifications for the job, Phillips said his work as CEO of Shepell-fgi – a company that offers employee assistance programs – was relevant healthcare experience.

He also said he was “one of the people who designed” the long-term care aspects of Ontario’s most recent budget.

Fullerton’s time as Minister of Long-Term Care was also not without controversy. She has come under heavy criticism for the devastation COVID-19 wreaked on long-term care facilities across the province, as 3,794 nursing home residents died from the virus and thousands more were infected.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk and the Ontario COVID-19 Long-Term Care Commission both released industry reports this spring, which found the ministry was unprepared for a pandemic, in part due to years of inaction to prevent a crisis.

In turn, the opposition had called for Fullerton’s resignation.

“It was a tragedy what happened in our long-term care homes,” Phillips told CBC News. “It is a problem that has evolved over many years in successive governments, but we are here to solve it.”

Dr. Merrilee Fullerton will now serve as Minister of Children, Community and Social Services. (Frank Gunn / The Canadian Press)

Election next June

With just under a year to go for next June’s provincial election, the reshuffle appears to be shifting veteran MPs from more rural ridings who should be secure PC seats and gives subordinate cabinet positions to MPs from urban and suburban ridings who may be. more vulnerable electorally.

Five ministers were removed from cabinet, including former Environment Minister Jeff Yurek and former Infrastructure Minister Laurie Scott.

Meanwhile, several young caucus members have been promoted to larger portfolios.

David Piccini becomes Minister of the Environment and Kinga Surma takes care of the infrastructure file. Parm Gill assumes the new portfolio of Citizenship and Multiculturalism, the premier leading this role.

Prabmeet Singh Sarkaria is the new President of the Treasury Board, who has been separated from the finance file, while Lisa Thompson replaces Ernie Hardeman in agriculture, food and rural affairs.

Health Minister Christine Elliott, Education Minister Stephen Lecce, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones, Attorney General Doug Downey and Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy remain in their senior positions. Bethlenfalvy also supports the province’s digital government strategy.

Although many ministerial posts changed hands on Friday, Stephen Lecce remains Minister of Education. (Evan Mitsui / CBC)

In a statement, the president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, Sam Hammond, denounced Lecce’s retention as minister of education.

“The Prime Minister and Minister Lecce have a long history of ignorance and disrespect for education partners,” said Hammond. “The contempt is intentional and it has unfortunately resulted in critical failures that continue to negatively affect students, educators and other education workers across Ontario – failures we cannot ignore.

Several new arrivals

Meanwhile, John Yakabuski is absent as Minister of Natural Resources, as this file falls to Greg Rickford, who takes on a merged file as Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry, as well as Indigenous Affairs.

Todd Smith becomes Energy Minister, who parted ways with Rickford’s former portfolio.

Jill Dunlop, a former associate minister, becomes minister of colleges and universities, while Ross Romano moves on to government services and consumers.

Several newcomers are also handling the files of associate ministers, including Stan Cho in transportation and Jane McKenna in children’s and women’s issues.

Nina Tangri becomes Associate Minister of Small Business and Paperwork, while Kaleed Rasheed becomes Associate Minister of Digital Government.


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