By Sabrina Almeida
Quebec Premier Francois Legault’s recent proposal to tax the unvaccinated people in his province raised tensions between the haves and have nots while making international headlines. If implemented, the initiative aimed at converting anti-vaxxers will be ground-breaking, in Canada at least.
Let’s be clear, it’s people who don’t have a medical reason for not getting a COVID-19 vaccine that the premier is going after. Those spewing conspiracy theories and clogging your inbox with unvalidated posts about the new world order.
While a poll showed 60 per cent of support among Canadians for Legault’s unprecedented move, the approval rate could be much higher. Individuals who have rolled up their sleeves are becoming increasingly frustrated with those refusing to do so for non-medical reasons, and the burden it is putting on the health system. It’s a subject you want to avoid in social circles because of the heated conversations and ill-feeling it creates. Many unvaccinated individuals have found themselves unfriended as a result of it.
Right or wrong, Legault’s proposal will have to clear legal hurdles before it sees the light of day. Meanwhile, it has caused an ethical storm in a country that places immense importance on human rights and personal liberties.
Ethicists have been working overtime explaining why Legault’s unvaxx tax is a ‘bad’ decision. Secretly however, many vaccinated Canadians are marvelling at the Quebec premier’s bold move which comes at the great expense of alienating himself and could jeopardize his re-election. Will he be seen as a dictator who is taking away personal freedoms?
Health care workers, especially those working in hospital critical care units, might be among those who support the idea of penalizing the unvaccinated for their selfishness. Given how they have struggled through almost two years of the pandemic caring for COVID-19 patients while risking their lives and that of their loved ones, one can understand their anger and frustration.
Many wonder whether Quebec will green light the policy which is considered to be discriminatory and divisive. Perhaps Legault is hoping that the idea of being taxed will force some more of the unvaccinated to get inoculated just like vaccine certificates did… and that it won’t come to actual implementation.
To that end, his bombshell announcement seems to have already had some impact. Quebec’s health minister Christian Dubé told media on Wednesday, a day later, that first-dose appointments had surged over the previous 48 hours.
Whether the remaining anti-vaxxers will dig in their heels and call his bluff remains to be seen.
Almost unheard of at this point, Quebec will still not be the first jurisdiction to consider or implement this controversial fine on the unvaxxed. Greece has already done that. Starting later this month Greeks over the age of 60 will have to pay a $142 fine for each month that they remain unvaccinated, according to a BBC report. Media also suggests that other European countries are considering some form of consequences for the unvaccinated.
Singapore has required unvaccinated COVID-19 patients to pay for their own medical bills. Although this would be contrary to the Health Canada Act, it’s a tempting thought, isn’t it?
Legault who has referred to his fine as a ‘health contribution’ seems to be thinking along similar lines.
“These people, they put a very important burden on our health-care network,” Legault said. “I think it’s reasonable a majority of the population is asking that there be consequences.”
Roughly 10 per cent of eligible Quebecers remain unvaccinated, but health officials say they take up about 50 per cent of COVID-19 beds in hospitals.
So, some may choose to look at Legault’s move as logical.
Prime Minister Trudeau was asked his opinion but avoided condemning the move saying more information was needed to make a comment. However he took the opportunity to talk about federal implementation of the vaccine mandate and call out the Conservatives vaccine hesitancy. He danced around persistent questioning with the same rhetoric about his government’s vaccine-related achievements but said that “strong measures have worked” and provinces are “right” to explore vaccination incentives. I will leave you to draw your own conclusion from that.
Ontarians need not fear any moral or ethical compromise as our premier is unlikely to follow Legault’s path. Given the implementation of vaccine certificates at the very last minute, it almost seems like Doug Ford avoided it as long as he could. Not surprising given that the Conservatives as a whole haven’t exactly shown themselves to be pro-vaccines. Although Leader Erin O’Toole said he expects his MPs to promote COVID-19 immunization, the party had previously challenged the House of Commons vaccine mandate in November.
But while Quebec’s unvaxx tax proposal might seem like a quick way to end the pandemic and our health care woes, it could set a dangerous precedent.
In the meanwhile, we can only hope Premier Legault’s scare tactic works not just for Quebec but for the whole country… yet we don’t want it to ever come to be!