Legault set to waive Quebec’s ‘anti-vax tax’, report says

The Prime Minister has been the subject of criticism and controversy since announcing the health contribution plan on January 11.

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QUEBEC CITY — Invoking the need to maintain social peace, Prime Minister François Legault returned Tuesday to his plan to impose a controversial “health contribution” — nicknamed the “anti-vax tax” — on unvaccinated Quebecers.

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With support for measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic receding and threats of protests similar to trucking convoys in Ottawa being staged, Legault sounded a hasty pushback on the tax, which had been criticized on many many fronts and made international headlines.

Legault nevertheless defended the tax, saying that when he introduced it on January 11, he thought it would be a good incentive to encourage the roughly 540,000 unvaccinated Quebecers to step up their efforts.

But he said the mood had changed over the past three weeks and people were increasingly impatient for the fifth wave of the pandemic to be over. It wouldn’t be a good idea to make another restriction now, Legault told a news conference at the Legislative Assembly.

“When we see what is happening in our society, when we see what is being said on social networks, I fear that Quebeckers are divided,” said Legault. “My role as Premier is to ensure the safety of Quebecers, but also to ensure a certain social peace.

“I understand that this divides Quebecers, and right now we need to build bridges, to listen to each other. Quebecers must remain united. We do not want Quebec to be divided between the 90% of Quebecers (who are vaccinated) and the remaining 10% (who are not).

Legault adopted a conciliatory tone, reaching out to those with fears about the vaccine. He said he was confident young health minister Lionel Carmant’s plan to woo unvaccinated people will produce the results public health is seeking.

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“I understand that some people don’t like the idea of ​​being vaccinated, of having a product put in their body, even though the experts say there are almost no side effects,” said Legault. “Hundreds of millions of doses have been administered around the world, so it has been tested.

“The numbers are very clear: if you haven’t been vaccinated, you’re much more likely to end up in hospital and die from COVID.”

Legault insisted his decision not to implement the health tax had nothing to do with possible protests. Several groups — including one led by union leader Bernard (Rambo) Gauthier — have posted on social media in recent days threatening to take to the streets of the provincial capital this weekend.

Such protests would coincide with the annual Quebec Winter Carnival, which opens on Friday.

“I trust Quebecers,” said Legault. “It is important to keep people’s right to demonstrate, but it is important that it is done with respect.”

Later Tuesday, the Sûreté du Québec indicated that it would be ready if the situation escalates in the capital. Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand also pleaded for calm, saying local hotels and restaurants cannot take the brunt of such disruptions to their businesses.

Legault’s turnaround surprised. As recently as Friday, members of his own caucus were saying the tax was coming. Unvaccinated people were reportedly charged $100 to $800 to offset the extra burden they place on the healthcare system.

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All four opposition parties have lambasted the tax, saying such a policy would run counter to the ideal of free and equally accessible health care for everyone in Canada.

Acting public health director Dr. Luc Boileau dodged questions about the proposed tax, saying he preferred not to comment on “an economic measure.”

Arriving for the first day of the new session of the National Assembly on Tuesday, opposition leaders tore at the prime minister, accusing him of launching the idea as a diversion from his mishandling of the pandemic.

“The CAQ government has been having fun with Quebecers for a month,” Liberal leader Dominique Anglade told reporters. “He says one thing on Monday, the opposite on Tuesday. Frankly, they take us for idiots.

“They came up with this idea. They had no legal basis for it or any sort of public health agreement. He manages by polls. It must have a poll that says, ‘You know, it’s not popular anymore, so I don’t do it anymore.’ ”

“The government is playing poker with Quebecers,” added the parliamentary leader of the Parti Québécois, Martin Ouellet. “Enough bluffing in a crisis. We are asking the government to stop playing yo-yos and be frank with Quebecers.

Québec solidaire co-spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois accused Legault of governing on a whim.

“The debate was monopolized by this device (the health tax) which was invented by François Legault because of his mood of the day.

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“It’s out of whack, incompetence. Why have we wasted weeks of debate talking about it? We lost precious time.

pauthier@postmedia.com

twitter.com/philipauthier

  1. Prime Minister François Legault at a press conference in Montreal on Thursday, January 13, 2022.

    Robert Libman: Quebec’s proposed ‘vax tax’ could be a necessary evil

  2. A line forms at the Parc Avenue COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal on Monday, January 3, 2022.

    Group of Quebec doctors say anti-vax tax would be ‘discriminatory and unfair’

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