Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips dropped a Friday afternoon bombshell on Queen's Park, announcing that he won't seek reelection and that he intends to resign as MPP next month.
— Rod Phillips (@RodPhillips01) January 14, 2022
"I have spoken with Premier [Doug] Ford and Brian Patterson, President of the Ontario PC Party, to inform them of my decision not to seek reelection and to step down next month as the MPP for Ajax," Phillips, a 2018 star candidate for the party, stated.
"This will allow the premier to appoint a successor to continue the important work of the Ministry of Long-Term Care," he added.
Phillips said that he intends to return to the private sector.
The surprise announcement from the former environment minister and finance minister in this government comes at a critical time in the beleaguered long-term care file. Not only is the ministry responsible for following through on myriad recommendations developed from the long-term care commission report, but with the Omicron variant long-term care and retirement homes are currently in crisis mode.
That state of affairs sees over half of long-term care homes in the province in outbreak at the moment, and over 3,600 staff are currently infected. The situation has prompted calls from all three opposition parties for the government to request the military to provide temporary support, while the ministry has said that it responded to get ahead of the issue in December and is in communication about the situation on the ground.
Phillips, a longtime fixture in the PC establishment, was recruited as a star candidate by former PC leader Patrick Brown. He came with an extensive resume that included experience at Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman's city hall, as a staffer in the previous PC government, and as part of the leadership teams at places like Postmedia, CivicAction and Ontario Lottery and Gaming.
When Brown resigned his position as leader due to an alleged sexual misconduct controversy, for which he denies any wrongdoing, Phillips strongly considered mounting a leadership bid, but ultimately decided to remain on the sidelines.
The affable and professional Phillips did well in the early stages of the Ford government, handling a tricky environment file before being promoted to become the minister of finance and proving to be one of the more effective PC fundraisers. However, that ascent was derailed when news leaked out that Phillips was enjoying a luxurious vacation in St. Barts while the rest of the province was under tough public health restrictions in December 2020.
The optics of the situation prompted the premier to turf him from the role and put him in the backbench penalty box until Phillips was given the long-term care role during a cabinet shuffle in June 2021.
In his statement, he shared that he was proud of the work he accomplished in that file. "Together we have protected residents with the toughest legislation and best enforcement in the country, moved ahead with the largest long-term care building program ever in Canada and invested in training tens of thousands of new, frontline health care staff."
With the departure of Phillips, Ajax could become a more competitive riding in 2022. It features longtime Ajax Mayor Steve Parish, who will run for the NDP. Meanwhile, the local Carruthers Creek environmental issue has galvanized some opposition to the government.
Phillips also is part of a growing list of MPPs not running for reelection which includes an unusually high amount of incumbent government members. That should also give PC leadership under Ford some flexibility to recruit its own candidates, which there was little time and opportunity to do in 2018.