Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says provinces are “right” to consider ways to encourage and incentivize COVID-19 vaccination.
His comments come just one day after Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced plans to impose a tax on any unvaccinated Quebecers who don’t have a valid medical exemption.
“Different jurisdictions are making different decisions about how to encourage people to get vaccinated, and as a federal government, we will be continuing to be there to support them in those decisions and to make sure that everyone gets vaccinated,” Trudeau said.
“Vaccines are about keeping Canadians safe, continuing to get through this pandemic the best possible way, and various orders of government are right to look at different ways of encouraging and incentivizing people to get vaccinated.”
Trudeau said the federal government will wait for details on Quebec’s proposed health contribution before he’ll comment further, but he assured Canadians the province has pledged “to stand by the principles and the rules around the Canada Health Act as they move forward.”
Only 10 per cent of Quebec’s population is unvaccinated, Legault said on Tuesday, but he said they make up 50 per cent of patients in intensive care beds.
“A health contribution will be charged to all adults that don’t want to get vaccinated. We are there now,” Legault said.
“I think it’s normal that the majority of the population is asking that there be a consequence.”
The Quebec premier did not specify how much this tax would be, but he did say it would be “significant” — and that he does not consider a fine of $50 or $100 to be significant.
“All Quebec adults who refuse in the coming weeks to at least get a first dose will be getting a bill,” he said.
Innovation Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said on Wednesday that the federal government will “let the Quebec government” decide its own policy “when it comes to vaccination.”
“I think from the federal side, we’ll keep on focusing on making sure we deliver vaccines, that we deliver testing kits across the country,” Champagne said.
Ontario’s top doctor, meanwhile, came out in firm opposition to the idea of implementing a similar tax in his province.
“We have not made that recommendation to government ever throughout this pandemic,” Dr. Kieran Moore said.
“It’s not one that we would bring forward. It does, in my mind, seem punitive. We have always been supportive of adults making informed decisions for vaccination and trying to increase availability and accessibility.”
Since the announcement, the reaction from various experts has been mixed. Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist at the University of Toronto, said he sees “lots of problems” with the proposed health contribution.
“I don’t love it. … I think it will be divisive,” he said.
Bowman says he is “as pro-vaccine is a person could be” and “absolutely” thinks there is “an ethical obligation to be vaccinated.” However, he worries the proposed levy could “embolden the unvaccinated.”
“How much civil unrest do you want to create? How many people do you want to alienate?”
Bowman isn’t the only one with questions. Cara Zwibel, acting general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, warned in a statement that the “divisive measure” could end up “punishing and alienating those who may be most in need of public health supports and services.”
“We do not fine individuals who make poor diet and exercise choices, those who choose higher-risk occupations or recreational activities,” Zwibel said.
“Some essential services — like basic health care for those who are ill — transcend such individual choices.”
Some legal experts see the issue slightly differently, though. Provinces have a constitutional authority to levy direct taxes in order to pay for services like health care, according to David Duff, a professor at the University of British Columbia’s Peter A. Allard School of Law.
“They’re not taking away people’s freedom, they’re just requiring people to pay a price if they pose a risk,” Duff said.
“We get a tax break on investing in our retirement. Why? Because (the government) wants to encourage that,” he said. “You give to charity, you get something back. This is similar to that.”
— with files from Global News’ Sean Boynton, Ryan Rocca and Mike Armstrong
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