Rod Phillips, a prominent minister in Ontario Premier Doug Ford's cabinet, will not seek re-election in June's election, he announced Friday on Twitter.
Phillips, who is the MPP for Ajax and the province's long-term care minister, said he will step down from his posts next month.
He said he will be returning to the private sector.
Phillips served as environment minister for the first year of Premier Doug Ford's government.
He was then named finance minister, but resigned from that position in December 2020, hours after he returned from a
controversial two-week trip to St. Barts despite public health rules against travel at the time.
Ford brought him back into cabinet last year as the long-term care minister, and Phillips says in his statement that the timing of his announcement today will allow the premier to appoint someone else to lead the ministry.
Phillips said he told Ford and the head of the Progressive Conservative party about his decision and thanked Ford in a statement.
"This will allow the premier to appoint a successor to continue the important work of the Ministry of Long-term Care," Phillips wrote.
"It also ensures that the PC Party has the time needed to nominate a candidate in Ajax and prepare for the provincial election."
Ontario's election is set for June 2.
Phillips recognized what he called Ford's "strong leadership" through the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that he "has always put first what is best for the people of Ontario."
"I remain confident Ontarians will re-elect his government in the upcoming election," Phillips wrote.
Long-term care sector faces major challenges
Phillips will leave his post as the long-term care sector faces major challenges. More than 50 per cent of long-term care homes were experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks as of Friday and more staff had confirmed infections than at any other point in the pandemic.
In the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 3,800 residents died with the virus in Ontario long-term care homes. Ford's government face a storm of criticism as the number of deaths mounted, partly because the PCs had scaled back comprehensive annual inspections of long-term care homes in 2019.
Vaccinations mean fewer people are dying than in earlier waves of infections, but the Omicron variant is resulting in severe staffing shortages across the province, leading to calls for military assistance as homes scramble to recruit workers.
Phillips entered public life in 2017 when former Progressive Conservative leader Patrick Brown recruited him to become the Tory candidate for Ajax.
He briefly contemplated a run for the leadership of the party after Brown resigned in early 2018, but instead backed Caroline Mulroney, who eventually lost to Ford.
Phillips won a seat in the legislature later that year and as environment minister he oversaw the dismantling of the previous Liberal government's cap-and-trade climate change plan and publicly led Ford's fight against the federal carbon tax.
Ford thanks Phillips for 'tireless work'
Meanwhile, Ford has thanked Phillips "for his tireless work representing the people of Ajax and advancing important and necessary improvements in Ontario's long-term care system."
According to Ford, Phillips built on the government's work to build much-needed long-term care homes, recruit more personal support workers and nurses, and, with the passing of the Fixing Long-term Care Act, 2021, improve accountability and transparency in the sector.
"These initiatives will have a lasting impact as they improve the lives of long-term care residents and their families," Ford said in a statement.
Prior to entering politics, Phillips was the CEO of the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation, and chair of newspaper publisher Postmedia.
He also served as chief of staff to former Progressive Conservative labour minister Elizabeth Witmer and former Toronto
mayor Mel Lastman.
Phillips's announcement comes a week after another caucus member — Jeff Yurek, who was shuffled out of cabinet last year — also said he would resign next month and not seek re-election in June.
Several other caucus members have also announced they would not seek re-election, but are staying on until then.
Uncertainty putting LTC residents 'at risk,' NDP says
Sara Singh, the Ontario NDP's deputy leader and long-term care critic, said this is not the first time the government has changed long-term care ministers when residents were in the middle of a crisis, and people are worried seniors will fall through the cracks again while the Ford government is in disarray.
"Outbreaks and staff shortages are surging in long-term care homes again, leaving residents at risk," Singh said in a statement.
"Families with loved ones in long-term care feel like they've never been this government's priority. They need immediate assurances that their loved ones will get the care and protections they need, including access to boosters and fourth doses."
According to Singh, staff also urgently need boosters, paid sick days, better pay and PPE, including N95s.
"We need to see a plan now to keep seniors in long-term care safe during this wave. Omicron won't wait for Doug Ford to get his house in order," Singh said.