The measure was first announced by Quebec Premier François Legault in January
Quebec Premier François Legault says his government will not go ahead with a proposed tax on the unvaccinated, in order to protect “social cohesion” in the province.
Legault made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday, where he also eased restrictions on gyms and sports activities.
The tax, first announced in January by the premier, would have imposed a monetary penalty on Quebecers who are eligible but who refuse to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Legault says while his government has a bill ready to go, he’s decided not to table it after seeing “growing discontent” in the population.”I understand that this divides Quebecers and right now we need to build bridges,” said Legault. “My role is to try to bring Quebecers together to stay united as a people.”
Still, Legault denied that he was backing down due to demands by organizers of a protest planned for Thursday in Quebec City. He said he had already begun to have discussions “last week” about scrapping the tax.
Interim public health director Dr. Luc Boileau confirmed during the news conference that he had not been asked whether he approved of the tax.
Details of the tax had remained vague, with Legault saying it could be included in provincial tax filings. He had said he wanted the cost to be “significant,” suggesting it would be more than $100. Roughly 10 per cent of eligible Quebecers remain unvaccinated.
Legault reiterated Tuesday that data shows unvaccinated people are much more likely to end up in hospital and are at a higher risk of dying from COVID-19.
But he said instead of a tax, the government will use different measures to try to persuade people to get vaccinated, such as sending teams door-to-door to offer at-home vaccination, or to encourage people to make an appointment.
Community advocates, bioethicists and other experts raised concerns about the proposal, saying that more education was needed, instead of punitive measures. Others questioned the legal ramifications, saying the proposed tax could run afoul of the Canada Health Act.
Vardit Ravitsky, a professor of bioethics at the Université de Montréal and at Harvard medical school, says the tax would have had a disproportionate impact on low-income people.
Ravitsky believes the proposal touched a nerve with many across the province and the country, because of how Canadian society views the right to health care.
“We see health as something that we get from the government free of charge, and the notion of attaching a tax or a penalty to the domain of health seems a step in the wrong direction,” she said.
She says “carrots, not sticks” are right approach to persuading more people to be vaccinated.
Tax was not ‘a serious plan’ says opposition
Opposition parties accused Legault Tuesday of only floating the idea of the tax in order to distract from the resignation of former public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda, something Legault denies.”Mr. Legault improvises constantly,” said Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade. “He came up with this idea that was not only irresponsible, that was not thought through, that didn’t have any legal support to it.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, house leader for Québec Solidaire, agreed that the tax was never “a serious plan,” adding that the government had wasted time with this debate, instead of focusing on rebuilding the health care system.
“It was something thrown in a press conference to make headlines. This is not how we should deal with a global pandemic,” he said.
Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, leader of the Parti Québécois, accused the premier of “playing poker” with Quebecers and putting a strain on social cohesion in the province.
“We have a premier who takes his population for fools,” said Plamondon.
“I was going to say, ‘a premier who treats his population like children,’ but I treat my children with more respect for their intelligence and with more transparency than the premier is doing right now with the Quebec population.”
Christian Bourque, executive vice-president of the polling firm Leger, believes Legault may have been trying to tap into a sense of frustration among the vaccinated population when he proposed the tax, but later realized it would be too difficult to implement.
Bourque believes scrapping the tax now serves a dual political purpose of giving the population a bit of “positive news” and allowing Legault to claim he is being flexible, by acknowledging the opposition’s concerns.
“There have been several [times] now that he sort of backed off, but he always puts it off as, ‘you know what, I’m just listening.’ And he got away with it,” said Bourque.
Both Anglade and Plamondon have accused Legault and the CAQ of making decisions based on polling instead of science, noting that it is an election year. Quebecers will head to the polls to elect their provincial representatives this coming fall.