Anti-vax Tax Trial Balloon Bursts

3 minute read

Premier Legault has abandoned the idea of ​​an “anti-vax tax” in Quebec, citing the need to preserve social peace. On Tuesday, opposition parties accused the premier of having initially launched the idea as a diversion tactic, one that was intended to distract from his poor pandemic management.

Mr. Legault’s hasty retreat from his so-called “anti-vax tax,” followed significant public backlash and threats of organized demonstrations. The brewing protest movement had been likened to the trucker convoy in Ottawa. Meanwhile, public support for public health restrictions had been steadily decreasing. 

Nevertheless, Mr. Legault defended the tax idea. He argued that when he initially proposed it, on January 11th, he thought it would be an incentive to encourage vaccine hold-outs to receive the vaccine – a population that includes over 540,000 unvaccinated Quebecers.

However, he conceded that the mood has changed over the past three weeks and people are increasingly impatient waiting for the fifth wave to subside. Speaking at the Legislative Assembly, Mr. Legault told the press that it would be ill-considered to make another restriction now, observing that “when we see what is happening in our society, when we see what is being said on social media, I worry about the division among Quebecers.” He further clarified that his “role as premier is to ensure the safety of Quebecers, but also to ensure a certain social peace.”

Legault bemoaned further social division, adding that he understands “that this divides Quebecers, and right now we have to build bridges, [and] listen to each other. Quebecers must stay united. We don’t want Quebec to be divided between the 90% of Quebecers (who are vaccinated) and the remaining 10% (who are not).”

Mr. Legault’s conciliatory tone is considered an olive-branch to those who have fears about the vaccine. The premier claimed that he is confident that his junior health minister, Lionel Carmant, will implement a plan that encourages the unvaccinated population to receive their doses. 

Mr. Legault further insisted that his decision was unrelated to potential protests. Several groups – including one led by union leader Bernard (Rambo) Gauthier – posted messages on social media, threatening to protest in Quebec City this past weekend.

These protests would have coincided with Quebec’s annual Winter Carnival, which began on Friday.

Legault’s reversal, however, still came as a surprise. Last Friday, members of his own caucus were saying that the tax should be imposed. Unvaccinated people would have been charged $100-$800, to offset the financial burden that they place on the healthcare system.

The four opposition parties criticized the tax, claiming that such a policy contravenes a Canadian belief in free and equally accessible health care. 

Premier Legault has developed a reputation for moving ahead with bold and sometimes counterintuitive policies if he thinks they are in the interests of Quebec. His capitulation on the anti-vax tax is perhaps indicative of a more cautious approach the popular incumbent premier will be taking as we get closer to the fall provincial election.

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