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Ontario's finance minister resigns after returning from Caribbean vacation – CBC.ca

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Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips has resigned after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures that discourage non-essential travel, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.

Earlier Thursday morning, upon arrival at Toronto Pearson Airport, Phillips said he would like to keep his job but would respect Ford’s decision following what the premier said would be a “very tough conversation” between the two.

“Today, following my conversation with Rod Phillips, I have accepted his resignation as Ontario’s minister of finance,” Ford said in a statement.

“At a time when the people of Ontario have sacrificed so much, today’s resignation is a demonstration that our government takes seriously our obligation to hold ourselves to a higher standard.” 

Ford said he has asked Peter Bethlenfalvy to assume the role of minister of finance and deliver the government’s 2021 budget.

He said this appointment will “help ensure economic stability in the months ahead, as we support Ontario families, workers and businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic, and as we chart our path to long-term economic recovery.”

‘Dumb, dumb mistake,’ Phillips says

Phillips said he deeply apologizes for his decision to travel abroad during this time and that there is nobody to blame but himself. He called the trip a “dumb, dumb mistake.”

“Obviously, I made a significant error in judgment, and I will be accountable for that,” Phillips said from Pearson airport in Toronto on Thursday.

“I do not make any excuses for the fact that I travelled when we shouldn’t have travelled.”

Phillips has been in St. Barts since Dec.13 and will quarantine in Ajax, Ont., for 14 days starting today.

He said earlier this week he chose to go ahead with the trip not knowing the province would be placed under lockdown on Boxing Day.

“I understand that my actions have angered a lot of people, and I have to earn back that confidence.”

‘I’m very upset’: Premier Ford 

The premier had said Wednesday he wasn’t told about the trip ahead of time, but he did learn about it shortly after it began and should have demanded Phillips return immediately.

He said it’s “unacceptable” for any public official to ignore the province’s COVID-19 guidelines, which urge residents to avoid non-essential travel.

Phillips apologized Tuesday evening for leaving the country on Dec. 13 for a personal trip even as health officials pleaded with Ontarians to only venture outside of their homes for essential purposes.

News of Phillips’s holiday trip to the Caribbean — despite the COVID-19 pandemic and his own government’s advice to avoid non-essential travel — has left many questioning how it came about in the first place and sparked calls for his resignation.

On Wednesday, Phillips’s office also told CBC News that the minister had taken a trip to Switzerland in August.

Ford spoke publicly on the issue for the first time on Wednesday while he was at Trillium Health in Mississauga, Ont., where staff are preparing to distribute Moderna COVID-19 vaccines to Peel Public Health.

“There can’t be rules for elected people and non-elected people,” Ford told reporters.

“I can tell you I’m very upset. I’m very frustrated with the situation. I stand out here every single day and tell people to stay at home.”

On Dec. 24, Rod Phillips tweeted a video in which he’s seen sitting by a fireplace. In the video, he thanked people for what they are doing to protect the most vulnerable. (Rod Phillips/Twitter)

Home for the holidays?

Days after he had departed on his trip, Phillips’s office posted a series of tweets for the minister that could arguably give the impression he was home for the holidays. From a video of him sitting next to a fireplace, thanking Ontarians for protecting the most vulnerable, to a previously taken photo of him holding local maple syrup to celebrate National Maple Syrup Day. 

In response to this, Phillips said Thursday it is not out of the norm to schedule tweets ahead of time, especially for politicians like himself.

“Most politicians pre-program and pre-record a lot of their social media content. I did that to promote Ajax businesses, to promote the COVID-19 supports that we have for small businesses across the province and to wish my constituents a holiday greeting,” Phillips said.

“That said, I understand in the circumstances why it seemed insincere. I apologize for that.”

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Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.

Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.

“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.

Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”

In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.

Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.

“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.

Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis

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More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.

The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.

But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”

At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.

Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.

“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.

In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.

($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)

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Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants

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Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.

Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.

“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.

Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.

Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.

“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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