Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips has left the country.
While health officials across the country warned against non-essential travel outside of Canada amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the minister departed for the beaches of St. Barts, a luxury vacation destination island in the eastern Caribbean, on Dec. 13.
But if you look at his Twitter feed, you’d likely think he’s spent the past month visiting local Ontario businesses and delivering thoughtful Christmas Eve messages from home beside a holiday fire.
Phillips’ social media accounts gave the image the minister was home for the holidays despite being away. But after news broke Tuesday that the minister was very much not home, his accounts were subject to tight scrutiny.
WATCH: Ontario-wide lockdown starts Dec. 26. Story continues below.
A spokesperson for Phillips confirmed the images were taken in advance of his trip and staff were responsible for publishing the social posts while he was away.
“So staff run the account for the most part, and we have, like, similar to most politicians over holidays and breaks, kind of a schedule of things to post, in terms of things that we never got to post previously,” spokesperson Emily Hogeveen told HuffPost Canada.
“But yes, all those photos were taken previously. And were posted by staff.”
Let’s take a walk through some of the most notable posts since Phillips left Canada.
Local business love
Throughout December, Phillips’ account shared images of him visiting local businesses in his home riding of Ajax.
While some posts note that he took the photos “earlier this month,” others give the impression that he was actually visiting the businesses, leading to confusion once people realized he was out of the country.
A sticky situation
Phillips’ account celebrated National Maple Syrup Day on Dec. 17 — four days after he left the country — with a pun-filled featuring Phillips on his front steps holding a bottle of syrup and stack of pancakes.
According to Hogeveen, this “stock photo” was taken previously and repurposed for use on that day.
Turn on your camera!
Phillips also participated in several local TV panels while he was away, where he suspiciously made use of a video call background so we can’t quite see where he is.
Talking about sacrifices
Phillips’ account also repeatedly shared government messaging about the upcoming lockdown throughout his time away. And perhaps most notable was a Christmas Eve tweet, where Phillips applauded the “sacrifices” that “we all” are making.
Evidently those sacrifices didn’t include giving up your trip to St. Barts while the rest of your province is in lockdown.
A slap on the wrist
Ontario Premier Doug Ford issued a statement Tuesday condemning Phillips’ trip and ordering him to return home as soon as possible, while several officials, including NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, have called on him to resign. In his apology Tuesday, Phillips said he will complete the federal government’s mandatory 14-day quarantine upon arrival back in Canada.
“I deeply regret travelling over the holidays. It was a mistake and I apologize,” Phillips said in a statement Tuesday evening. “I am making arrangements to return to Ontario immediately and will begin a 14-day quarantine as soon as I arrive.”
However, his quick return to Canada may be complicated by news Wednesday that border officials will now require a negative COVID-19 test three days before arrival.
Still, many Canadians were not happy to find out about Phillips’ travel or the social posts.
Someone even rounded up every time Ontario officials stressed the importance of staying home and not travelling during Phillips’ trip.
Phillips’ posts have sowed doubt about the travel habits of many officials who appear to be home for the holidays but may not actually be. A Quebec politician has apologized for also travelling to the Caribbean this month, and Alberta Education Minister Adriana LeGrange’s press secretary Michael Forian was in Maui, according to his social media posts.
So if you’re a Canadian politician, please just share a picture of yourself at home with today’s newspaper. It would save us all a LOT of trouble.
With files from Sherina Harris.
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