Ontario finance minister says pandemic vacation was ‘dumb, dumb mistake,’ hopes Ford won’t fire him

Ontario finance minister Rod Phillips sheepishly apologized at Pearson airport on Thursday morning, two days after it was revealed he quietly departed for a vacation on a luxurious Caribbean island while the COVID-19 pandemic surged across Ontario.

The Ajax MPP left for St. Barts, a tiny, 10,000-inhabitant island known as a hideaway for yachts and boutique luxury hotels, on Dec. 13, calling the decision a “dumb, dumb mistake.”

“It was a significant error in judgment – a dumb, dumb mistake, I apologize for it, I regret it,” he told CP24’s Steve Ryan at the terminal.

He said that he could not really explain why he went ahead with the trip at the time that he did.

“I have been asking myself the same thing over the last number of days,” he said.

His office released a plethora of tweets and Instagram posts during the time he was away, including one where he sat next to a gingerbread house and thanked healthcare workers dealing with packed hospitals, as “we all make sacrifices this Christmas.”

Many of the posts made it appear as if he was in his riding when he was not.

Phillips said it was not his intention to deceive anyone about the trip when he sent the videos, tweets and Instagram posts.

“I understand why some people believe that is the case but it is not – many politicians, in fact most politicians pre-plan and pre-load messages on social media,” he said.

But he said the messages may have made it look that way given where he was and he knows the public is upset.

“I do understand that I have angered many people – I have to work to regain their confidence.”

In a Zoom call Phillips participated in while he was away, first pointed out by the Ontario Liberal Party, the sound of the ocean tide crashing into the beach can be heard when he unmuted himself to speak.

Ontario’s two top public health officials both expressed concerns about foreign travel at the time he departed for the vacation.

The federal government has also been warning Canadians not to embark on non-essential travel since early November.

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

Phillips said that he didn’t tell Ford about the trip because the Premier has better things to do.

“Premier Ford has far more important things to do than worry about the travel of his ministers,” he said.

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

Ontario opposition leader Andrea Horwath has called for Phillips to be removed from caucus.

Ford has said he and Phillips, who must now self-isolate until Jan. 13, will have a “very tough conversation,” about what has occurred.

Phillips said he wants to remain in cabinet, but he understands his error may mean he has to leave.

“I still think that there is a lot of work to be done in the province, but that is one of the things I will talk to the premier about today.”

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Why trade wars are dumb and we don’t need one with China

Why? Well, first, doing so would be illegal under international rules. We’d have to come up with some bogus excuse under the rules permitting “countervailing duties” – the same bogus excuses that Beijing is using against us.


Second, such duties would likely only escalate tensions, leading to more retaliation. Recent Sino-American trade history reveals just how quickly that mutual impulse towards self-immolation can escalate.

Third, tariffs on imported Chinese products would simply mean Aussie shoppers would pay more for a host of consumer products, leading to a cost-of-living squeeze when we can least afford it.

And fourth, because it’s one of the fundamental revelations of economics that freer trade underpins greater economic prosperity for nations – and that those gains are available to countries which keep tariffs low regardless of what other countries do.

How could we benefit from keeping tariffs low if other countries aren’t doing the same? Because tariffs give domestic producers an artificial leg up. Great, some might say. Let’s help our own. But history shows – including the recent history of Australia’s car-manufacturing industry – that propping up domestic industries doesn’t really help them or their workers. Ultimately, workers are kept in jobs with no real long-term prospects – at least not without costly taxpayer support – and domestic consumers pay higher prices for the imported cars they clearly prefer.


Rather than sheltering unviable industries behind high tariff walls, workers and capital tied up in those industries are better off redeployed to industries where we do have a “comparative advantage” over the rest of the world – that is, where we can produce products better than other countries.

Dismantling tariffs is an economic reform program with solid bipartisan support in Australia, having been initiated by the Whitlam government and later extended by the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments.

Importantly, we didn’t wait for other countries to cut their tariffs before we moved. Why? Well, partly because in the 1970s we were fighting a desperate war against inflation and anything to bring down prices was good.

But as the 1980s reform era rolled on, the advice of economists finally took root, that dismantling tariff walls would create more competitive tension in our economy and encourage resources to flow to what we do better.


As a nation, we took a punt that we’d rather run the risk of interrupted supply than continually protect industries that weren’t truly competitive and pay higher prices as a result. We’ve enjoyed higher productivity and wages as a direct result.

COVID-19 has led many to question this rejection of domestic self-reliance, but the gains to ordinary Australians from cheaper imports over the past decades are undeniable.

A desire to protect domestic industries is likely a driving force behind Beijing’s recent actions. And if so, the Chinese Communist Party and China’s citizens will have to find out the long and hard way about the economic toll of propping up unviable industries. In contrast, it is critical Australia remains a proud advocate of free trade and the unparalleled opportunities for mutually beneficial exchange and prosperity it offers.

It’s time for our leaders to double down on advocacy for a return to a truly multilateral, rules-based global free trading system – something the incoming US president, Joe Biden, has also vowed to promote.


In the meantime, Australian producers will need government support to help find alternative markets in which to promote their exports now being heavily penalised by China. Because the short-term shock to Australian jobs and incomes of China’s actions are very real. This was always the hidden risk in the collective decision by Australian businesses to exploit the opportunities presented by the fastest growing nation in our region.

Helping exporters to diversify into other markets is a much better course of policy action than engaging in a damaging trade tit-for-tat with China.

That’s particularly so now that China, once the world’s fastest growing economy, appears hellbent on a path of economic self-harm. If it continues, it certainly won’t be growing fast for much longer.

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Melbourne Storm’s NRL grand final win built on season of adversity, not dumb luck

Making your own luck is a pretty corny thing to say, especially when it comes to sport, but sometimes cliches are apt.

After the Storm racked up 22 points and conceded none against the minor premiers in the first half of the NRL grand final, that word “luck” was thrown around so liberally that you could have sworn the Storm had flipped a coin and successfully bet on it landing on its edge.

By full-time, the referees were in Melbourne’s pocket according to the shouting on social media.

The fact is the Storm received as much luck as they deserved, because it all came down to decisions by human beings who knew precisely what they were doing.

When the Storm drew first blood with a penalty try in the fourth minute, it wasn’t because some mystical ancient Greek god of controversial decisions willed it so.

They stretched, bent and broke the Penrith defence to the point that Tyrone May’s only recourse was trying to kick the ball out of Justin Olam’s hands.

While there is poetic irony in the Storm benefiting from the rule after its creation was in no small part the result of superstar Storm fullback Billy Slater’s tendency to stop tries feet-first, that doesn’t mean it was the result of divine intervention.

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There is precedent for this penalty try decision.

The only “luck” the Storm had in that instance was that Gerard Sutton had enough intestinal fortitude to award a penalty try for kicking the ball out of a would-be scorer’s hand, as the rules dictate.

But that’s no coincidence either. That knowledge and integrity is how Sutton got the job as the first lone referee in an NRL grand final for more than a decade.

And that pesky application of the rules came back to bite them, when Sutton had enough guts to sin-bin Brandon Smith for cynically refusing to let go of James Fisher-Harris for four seconds after “held” was called in the last minute.

Minutes after penalty Stephen Crichton ran headlong into Brenko Lee before Josh Mansour was sent over in the corner. His timing was off and the bunker got it right.

Melbourne Storm's Suliasi Vunivali breaks away from the Penrith Panthers in the NRL grand final.
The Storm’s defence is designed to force rushed decisions from opponents. It worked.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

Suliasi Vunivalu’s 80-metre intercept try wasn’t the result of someone slipping on a particularly damp patch of turf.

Melbourne’s defence, as it has done by design all year, rushed up and in. Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary, who is still only 22-years-old and playing the biggest game of his career, got a bit wide-eyed and lobbed a bad pass that Vunivalu had an age to line up and it was his athleticism that did the rest.

And come the second half, Melbourne was on the back of the most patently wrong call of the night, when Sutton saw Isaah Yeo scoot behind decoy runner Kurt Capewell in the lead-up to Brian To’o’s try, but the bunker saw fit to overrule his on-field decision.

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Commentators were stunned when Brian To’o was awarded this try.

There are thousands of decisions made before and during an NRL grand final.

Some of them are right, and some of them are wrong, but ascribing an unknowable force at work is to diminish the work of the parties involved.

And telling the Melbourne Storm they lucked their way into a premiership is particularly galling in 2020.

2020 wasn’t a lucky year for Melbourne

Every time Melbourne had a typically freezing winter’s day while Craig Bellamy’s team was seen training on a sunny 25-degree day in Queensland, the requisite “nice place to be stranded” jokes were made.

And while they were understandable, the fact is that these guys have lives and families and friends in Victoria.

Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy and captain Cameron Smith, wearing thongs, at a press conference before the NRL grand final.
The Storm were treated well on the Sunshine Coast, but they would rather have been home.(AAP: Darren England)

Regardless of how nice the beds are at the Twin Waters Resort, anyone who’s spent too long away from home will know that a hotel bed isn’t your bed.

Even straight after the final siren, on the biggest night of their professional lives (and for the unmarried, childless players, safely labelled the best moment of their lives) the players were unsure if they were allowed to embrace their loved ones.

A handful of their closest were allowed in the sheds, but the celebrations were certainly less effusive than usual.

The fact of the matter is, it was rotten luck that the Storm happened to be the only team from a state hammered by a second wave of COVID-19.

They were granted safe haven on the Sunshine Coast but have for months lived under strict biosecurity measures that forced them to stay isolated.

A lesser team would have cracked.

Cameron Smith and Josh Addo-Carr huge each other
The Storm refused to wilt this year.(AAP: Dean Lewins)

This could have been chalked up as a lost season for a team that had been to three grand finals in row from 2016 to 2018.

Instead, Bellamy further cemented his legacy on the Mt Rushmore of rugby league coaches by polishing up yet more hidden gems, bringing the team together and getting them to somehow improve over last year’s preliminary final exit.

Cameron Smith confirmed he isn’t human by finishing off the Dally M voting in his 18th full season, while Ryan Papenhuyzen emerged as one of the game’s best fullbacks a year after being third in line for the jersey.

But none of that holds a candle to Justin Olam, who at the start of the year was a 50-50 prospect every time he carried the ball and was used primarily as a battering ram late in sets.

By the time the grand final arrived, he was a weapon on both sides of the ball, scoring the opener and coming up with a late game-defining tackle as Brent Naden tried to break down the right flank.

Cameron Smith dives over the line with one arm stretched out in front of him
After 430 games, do you reckon Cameron Smith is relying on luck?(AAP: Dan Himbrechts)

To overuse “luck” when talking about the Storm’s fourth NRL premiership is to write off his work as being less important than the proper application of some niche parts of the rulebook.

No amount of horseshoes, rabbit’s feet or shamrocks can win you a premiership, and the Storm know that better than most.

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American Obiden/Harass Presentwitzy: Dumb and Dumber

American Obiden/Harass Presentwitzy: Dumb and Dumber   
Now that America’s 2020 horse race is on to decide who will be its top dog, as in Commander-in-Chief, this November, Democrats seem to think their top gun, Joe is in the lead; in total control after his veep pick, Kamala Harris. Let me be clear. Nothing is further from the truth. That Democrat duo will not win come November. Not on a straight ballot count. Won’t happen.
Trump the thoroughbred

For starters, it is not a horse race, so to speak. Incumbent, President Donald is a thoroughbred. He comes with a fine pedigree at that, I should add. His opponent, Joe Biden, is not of the same species caliber. Not even close. That is because Joe is a real donkey. Take his head for example. It is a composite of Crisp White Strips, Maybelline-why-can’t-you-be-true lip floss, and of course, crowned with so many rogainesque hair plugs, that his noggin always glows, even in daylight.

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Donald Trump calls players ‘very nasty and frankly very dumb’

Donald Trump won’t be sitting courtside at a Lakers game anytime soon.

The US President has fired back in his ongoing war of words with the NBA after its players united to protest for black rights when its season relaunched recently.

Trump was asked about players kneeling during the national anthem and said there was a “nastiness” to the way the NBA had approached the issue.

“It’s been horrible for basketball,” he told Outkick. “Look at the basketball ratings — they’re down, down to very low numbers. Very very low.

“People are angry about it. They don’t realise. (Fans) have enough politics with guys like me. They don’t need more.

“And there was a certain nastiness about the NBA, the way it was done too. The NBA is in trouble. It’s in big trouble. Bigger trouble than they understand.”

Trump had earlier said players kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner was “disgraceful” and had made the game unwatchable to him, prompting LA Lakers superstar LeBron James to hit back.

“I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership,” James said. “Our game is in a beautiful position and we have fans all over the world. And our fans don’t only love the way we play the game … but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledging what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers added: “Well, we lost one guy. Like, really, I don’t even care. We know that justice is on our side, right?”

Asked by Outkick about players and coaches taking shots at him despite their unwillingness to speak out on human rights violations in China while taking “billions of dollars” from the Asian country, Trump said: “I haven’t noticed them sending things back at me but I will say that I wouldn’t be that surprised as some are very nasty, very, very nasty and frankly very dumb. But I haven’t noticed that.”

“But I will say this: The way they cater to China, the way they bow to China, it’s a disgrace frankly. And they make a lot more money here than they do from China,” he continued.

“But we have a system that allows you to disrespect your system and that’s too bad for them. They don’t appreciate what they have here.”

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