Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Rod Phillips watches as he delivers baked goods and coffee to frontline healthcare professionals at Humber River Hospital in Toronto on November 5, 2020.Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Ontario’s long-term care minister, Rod Phillips, is stepping down and leaving politics, though a massive wave of COVID-19 outbreaks once again threatens vulnerable residents of the province’s nursing homes, where nearly 4,000 have died from the virus.

The sudden departure, announced on the social media platform Twitter late Friday afternoon, comes just over a year after the 56-year-old Mr. Phillips – once a candidate for the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party – was forced to resign as finance minister. minister after defying pandemic guidelines and vacationing on the Caribbean island of St. Barts.

He was brought back into the Cabinet in June and spearheaded new legislation to improve long-term care homes, which has been ravaged by COVID-19 and where some residents faced horrific conditions and neglect.

On Friday, as the province’s home shows more new virus outbreaks than ever before and the death toll is rising again, he said he told Premier Doug Ford and PC Party President Brian Patterson that he resigned and would leave his post as MPP for Ajax, east of Toronto, next month, ahead of the June general election.

He said the departure would give Mr. Ford the opportunity to nominate a new minister and a new PC candidate to be elected for the ride. Mr. Phillips, who did not respond to a request for comment, said in his Twitter statement that he would seek new opportunities in the private sector.

“I want to acknowledge Premier Ford’s strong leadership. Through what is undoubtedly the biggest challenge of our lives, the global COVID-19 pandemic, he has always put what is best for the people of Ontario first,” he said. Phillips in his statement. “I remain convinced that the Ontarians will re-elect his government at the next election.”

During his short tenure as long-term care minister, Mr. Phillips a massive program to begin building new homes and renovating the province’s aging facilities.

Mr. Phillips announced its departure, just as the Omicron variant of coronavirus pushed the chronically short-staffed long-term care sector into crisis again. According to Ontario’s latest progress report, 411 of the province’s 626 homes are battling an active outbreak of COVID-19.

“This is the highest number we have ever had and we have not even reached the top,” Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at the University Health Network and Sinai Health System in Toronto, said in an interview. “It’s the ultimate downturn to get one of the government’s smartest ministers set to address the departure of this case on a day when Ontario has never seen so many long-term care homes in a COVID-19 outbreak.”

The highly contagious Omicron variant has 2,140 long-term care residents and 3,830 employees on sick leave. Since mid-December, 64 residents have died from COVID-19, bringing the total number to 3,893.

Several other MPPs have said they do not plan to run again. Such announcements typically come in the months before a provincial campaign. Unlike Mr. Phillips stays most in their riding until their replacement takes over.

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement on Twitter thanking Mr. Phillips for his “tireless work” as MPP and long-term care minister. Spokesmen for the Premier did not answer questions about who would replace Mr. Phillips in the portfolio.

Mr. Ford’s office announced late Friday that his head of government and Legislative Affairs, Paul Calandra, would also take on the long-term care portfolio.

Ontario Liberal leader Steven Del Duca said Mr Phillips’ resignation as long-term care minister in the midst of yet another COVID-19 crisis is a “total abdication of leadership and a sign of pure chaos in Ford’s Conservative party.” He said the Ontarians “have felt abandoned by Doug Ford and his government, and Minister Phillips’ abrupt departure is just another example.”

NDP deputy leader and long-term care critic Sara Singh said the rise in Omicron put residents at risk, just as Mr. Phillips decided to leave, noting that he was appointed during the pandemic.

“This is not the first time the government has changed ministers of long-term care as residents were in the midst of a crisis and people are worried that seniors will fall through the cracks again while the Ford government is in disarray,” Singh said. in a statement.

Several advocacy groups led by the Ontario Health Coalition on Friday called on the government to introduce emergency measures, including the deployment of teams from the Canadian Armed Forces, to address a critical and growing staffing crisis in long-term care homes as well as in hospitals.

Mr. Phillips, who bowed out of the 2018 leadership contest and supported Ford rival Caroline Mulroney, was chief of staff to Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman in the early 2000s, assistant to former PC cabinet minister Elizabeth Witmer and campaign assistant to then-PC leader John Torys bid for provincial election in 2007. As a former CEO of Shepell-fgi (now Morneau Shepell), he was named president and CEO of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. in 2011 and later served as chairman of Postmedia. He was first elected as PC MPP for Ajax in 2018.

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