Minister of Long-Term Care Rod Phillips has announced that he is resigning his seat and won’t seek re-election in the spring.

Phillips made the announcement in a statement shared on social media on Friday afternoon.

“I have always considered public service a privilege and it has been an honour to serve as the MPP for Ajax and in three cabinet portfolios. That said, my professional life has been spent in the business world and I look forward to returning to the private sector,” he said.

Phillips, who is the former President and CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, was considered to be a star candidate when he was recruited to run under the Progressive Conservative banner in the 2018 provincial election.

He was initially appointed as the Minister of the Environment, Conservation and Parks before being given the finance portfolio in a subsequent cabinet shuffle.

But in December 2020, he came under fire after it came to light that he and his wife had gone on vacation in St. Bart’s while health officials were urging Ontarians to avoid all non-essential travel amid the rapid spread of COVID-19.

At the time, Phillips called the trip a “dumb, dumb mistake” and resigned from cabinet.

Phillips, however, was reinstated to cabinet this past June, replacing Merrilee Fullerton as long-term care minister.

During his time in charge of long-term care, Phillips presided over the tabling of new legislation governing the sector which includes increased fines for rule breakers and money for additional inspectors.

He also introduced a vaccine mandate for all long-term care workers, which is to date the only vaccine mandate introduced by the Ford government.

Nonetheless, he leaves his post at a time of increased challenges for the sector with 326 of Ontario’s 626 long-term care homes currently dealing with active outbreaks of COVID-19.

The protection provided by vaccination has meant that fewer long-term care residents have died compared to earlier waves of the pandemic but the government still had to introduce new rules prohibiting visitors outside of essential caregivers.

In his statement, Phillips expressed his confidence in the leadership of Premier Doug Ford “through what is undoubtedly the greatest challenge of our lifetimes” and said that he believes Ontarians will re-elect his government in the next provincial election.

However, some say that his resignation less than five months before Ontarians head to the polls sends a much different message.

“More than anything else Rod Phillips decision and announcement today is a stunning vote of non-confidence from a senior cabinet minister in Doug Ford’s abilities and Doug Ford’s leadership or lack of leadership,” Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca told CP24 on Friday afternoon. “I think for many, many months now the people of Ontario have known that Doug Ford has been erratic and have known that he is always stumbling at the last second but at this point to have a senior cabinet minister essentially saying that by his actions in a public way is absolutely stunning.”  

“Cleary Rod Phillips can no longer defend the government nor can he defend his own record as a long-term care minister who has not protected seniors in long-term care as we see what is happening right now with Omicron,” added NDP Leader Andrea Horwath in a subsequent interview with CP24. “When it comes to long-term care I have to say that both Liberals and Conservatives have been stubbornly holding up this system where private profits rein supreme and that has to stop.”

Calandra to be LTC minister

On Friday evening, Ford announced that Markham-Stouffville MPP Paul Calandra will replace Phillips as the Minister of Long-Term Care.

“As our government’s lead voice at Queen’s Park helping to move forward important legislation, including the recently-passed Fixing Long-Term Care Act, Minister Calandra is a trusted voice at the Cabinet table and is well positioned to continue improving the care that long-term care home residents receive,” Ford said.

“Our government will never stop working to build more long-term care home beds and improve the care provided to residents. Ontario’s seniors have given so much to our province and we will always be there for them.”

Ford said Calandra will remain as Minister of Legislative Affairs and Government House Leader.

In an earlier statement, the premier thanked Phillips for his work “advancing important and necessary improvements in Ontario’s long-term care system.”

The premier said that many of those improvements, including the Fixing Long-Term Care Act, will have “a lasting impact” when it comes to “improving the lives of long-term care residents and their families.

“I have no doubt there are great things for Rod ahead,” he said.

Phillips’ announcement comes one week after another caucus member – Jeff Yurek – also confirmed that he would resign and not seek re-election in the spring.

Phillips said that he will resign as MPP next month, in part, to ensure the PC party has sufficient time to nominate a candidate in his place to seek election in Ajax.

In total, eight PC MPPs have announced they won't seek re-election so far, including Phillips.