Most Canadians would be lucky to have one international vacation in a good year. Yet in a pandemic year, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips not only took two vacations, but both were to playgrounds of the rich.
And in short, that’s why Premier Doug Ford must fire Phillips as Finance Minister.
This summer, Phillips travelled to Switzerland. And from December 13 until December 31, he vacationed at St. Barts, a small yacht-laden tax haven Caribbean island.
Phillips knew it was wrong. He took pictures of himself at his home and at locations in Ajax, the working class constituency he represents. Then while vacationing at a playground of the rich, he or his political staff posted the images.
Opposition NDP leader Andrea Horwath called the social media posts a cover-up. Even worse, Premier Doug Ford was part of the cover-up. For at least two weeks Ford has been keeping Phillips’ location a secret.
The central political problem isn’t just that Phillips broke the rules. Phillips travel internationally to see his aunt in Cleveland. Or even to a resort where visitors wear a coloured plastic bracelet for a week’s access to unlimited mediocre food and draught beer.
This is a much more dangerous problem because it stabs at the heart of Ford’s political brand.
Phillips is a rich guy who goes to rich guy places. He’s like Bill Morneau, who had a French villa. Or Justin Trudeau, who enjoyed the Aga Khan’s private island. And now, Ford needs to decide if he will fire or protect the rich guy.
If he choses wrong, many will say this is a story of rich guys protecting rich guys. And that is a story entirely corrosive to the carefully developed Ford Nation brand. But it is a story that has all the data points to be easily constructed.
Rod Phillips graduated with his MBA then went to work at KPMG. He was appointed as CEO for Shepell-FGI, a predecessor of Morneau-Shepell. He became Paul Godfrey's chair of the board for the right-wing media empire Postmedia. Next was a stint as CEO of Ontario Lottery and Gaming Commission, where his annual compensation soared to nearly $700,000 despite a wage freeze imposed across the public service.
Doug Ford, son of a Conservative MPP, inherited an executive job in his father’s company with a starting salary of $200,000 and was given a 40 per cent share of the company, according to a Globe and Mail investigation. Yet despite the wealth, Doug Ford – or Ford Nation, his political brand – projects himself as a man concerned for the little guy. Or, as his 2019 campaign stated, “for the people.”
If Ford keeps Phillips, each of the Finance Minister’s budgets, comments and social media posts will be interpreted as acts of a rich guy who selfishly broke the rules when others sacrificed for the common good. And with each of those budgets, comments and social media posts, Ford would be living proof that rich guys stick together and Ford Nation was a deception. Ford needs to fire Phillips if Ford Nation has a hope of surviving.