Anglade reacts to vax tax shocker – Extended Transcript

By Geoff Agombar – Local Journalism Initiative
Anglade reacts to vax tax shocker – Extended Transcript
Quebec Liberal Leader Dominique Anglade responds to reporters question during a news conference to comment on the end of fall session, Thursday, December 9, 2021 at the legislature in Quebec City. Liberal House Leader Andre Fortin, right, looks on. (Photo : THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot )

Editor’s Note: This is the extended transcript of an interview between Record reporter Geoff Agombar and Dominique Anglade, leader of the Quebec Liberal Party and leader of the Official Opposition of Quebec, following Premier Francois Legault’s announcement about taxing unvaccinated Quebecers. The questions are paraphrased.

Monday evening, news broke late about the sudden resignation of public health director Dr. Horacio Arruda after 12 years, including throughout the full pandemic to date.

Opposition leader Dominique Anglade followed by announcing a new health minister, Monsef Derajji as part of a shuffle of her cabinet.

This set the scene for a 1 p.m. press conference by the premier assumed to focus on public health leadership and the pandemic health measures. Instead, the premier shocked the province and the country with a high drama, low detail announcement that Legault’s government will impose a tax on the unvaccinated.

Public discourse immediately slammed on the brakes and flipped the high beams on the premier’s surprise announcement. The Record’s mid-afternoon call with Anglade for comment on the shuffle and resignation, instead became a conversation about leadership and improvisation in the time of Covid.

(Record) I had expected a factual conversation about the shadow cabinet shuffle, but can we start with this afternoon’s shocker: the announcement a tax on the unvaccinated?

(Anglade) First of all, let me tell you I was expecting after twelve days of absence of the premier at the press conference that he would come and tell us exactly what was going to happen on Monday with kids going back to school. This is what people are waiting for. Are we going back to school or not? What’s going to happen? Nothing. No information whatsoever regarding back-to-school. We don’t know when. We don’t know how. We don’t know how many rapid tests are available right now. We don’t know how they are going to be deployed. It is really unacceptable. We are even more in the dark than we were before the press conference, so this is mindboggling.

The second thing I was expecting in this press conference was the fact that the arrival of a new leader of public health, that François Legault would change the way that he has been handling the [crisis team] This is a [crisis team] that is mostly political. There is no clear division between public health and the political decisions that are being made. And yet again he said, “You know, I’m going to do the same thing I was doing before and I’m going to keep on doing exactly the same.” So, no change and no recognition for the need to go back to the National Assembly and have real debates.

And thirdly, to answer specifically your question regarding the measure. First of all, it’s improvised. He tells us a story about a measure that he has improvised. It probably comes from a poll that he did and even the head of public health did not have an opinion about this. Were you consulted? “Well, no, and I don’t have an opinion.” So, what is it based on? Would it be efficient? It raises a thousand questions that should be debated at the National Assembly.

Where is this coming from? Why today?

Well, probably because he wanted a diversion. He wants to announce something so that we don’t talk about the fact that Dr. Arruda was maintained maybe too long in his post. He wants to change the conversation, obviously. That’s why. He doesn’t have an answer for going back to school on Monday. He doesn’t have an answer as to how many people are going to be called to change their surgery. He doesn’t have any answer on rapid testing and whether they’re coming. So, let’s try something else, right?

I mean, this is clearly an idea that he looked at on a poll and said I’m going to try this today.

Have looked at similar polls? Does liberal party have a position on the idea of a penalty of taxation on the unvaccinated?

I have a number of questions regarding that proposal. First of all, it raises questions around ethics. It raises questions around efficiency.

Why would we do that? We would do that for two reasons. Make more money for the state, right? That would be one way of looking at it. Which I don’t think is the problem right now. The second thing would be to force people to get vaccinated. Do we have any information or data telling us that it would actually have an impact? I haven’t seen anything regarding that. So, in terms of efficiency of the measure, I don’t have any information. We don’t even know how much money we are talking about in terms of taxation. We don’t have the impact on vulnerable people that could not pay. Are they going to be treated if they can’t pay?

All kinds of questions are being raised for which we don’t have answers. And a measure like this needs to be debated at the National Assembly. And, last week I asked the premier, I asked François Legault to call back the National Assembly so we can debate situation and find solutions, short-term, for the issues that are at stake. And he said, “No, we don’t need this.”

Meanwhile, he’s bringing up an idea without any detail, without any debate, saying “Oh, well, we’re looking into this,” in order not to answer a number of key questions that still need answers.

The premier said the tax would be “significant” but offered no specific numbers. Hardly sounds like a well-cooked proposal.

Because it’s not. And that’s the issue. That’s the way Legault operates regarding decisions that he makes. He improvises when he doesn’t know the answer, based on intuition. And this has led us to where we are today. The CAQ government was the worst government in the country in the first wave, it’s the worst government in the country in the fifth wave. That’s just the reality. Those are the facts. And the fact that we are not ready regarding the number of rapid tests for Quebec, it’s a mistake. That fact that the schools are still not ventilated properly, it is his decision. And the fact that vaccination has been delayed, it is also his decision.

So we are in the situation that we are in is because of all the decisions that he makes, based on his intuition and not based on science. And we would like to see more experts and science around the table making those decisions.

Does this have the hallmarks of a short-term grab at a headline or is it a grab at a wedge issue for the fall election?

It’s hard to say, but I would rather think the headline right now. They’re trying to get out of a bad situation that they’re in without any answers to give to the population.

People are really frustrated and fed up. They don’t understand why they decide to go with specific measures in Quebec that you don’t see elsewhere. What is it based on? Why weren’t we trying to be prepared to face this fifth wave?

Those are the questions that people have. And, because Legault doesn’t have any answers, he comes up with other ideas to talk about the situation.

The two of us are having a conversation about an improvised proposal without any detail instead of having conversations about the fact that they are not prepared to return to school on Monday, and we don’t have any information. They don’t have a plan. They don’t have a strategy.

In your call for a special session of the National Assembly, you said MNAs are hearing questions from citizens. What citizens’ questions did you want to put to the government?

I’ll take them one at a time. Returning to school. How are we going to get ourselves organized regarding outbreaks? What is going to be the protocol. How many rapid tests are we going to get? Is it going to be sufficient for primary school? We know already that they don’t seem to have the right quantities for secondary school. What is the level of hospitalizations that are going to be quote-unquote acceptable in order to go back to school? Is there going to be a threshold where they say, “we can’t just send the kids back to school”? What are we going to do about vaccination? Now, we’re talking about third dose. What about the fifth dose? What about medication? There are new medications that are available in the market. Are we getting ready and prepared for those? These are all the questions that people have that are not being answered in those press conferences.

Your newly named health critic tweeted three points earlier today: there should be more experts on the government’s crisis team, public health recommendations to the government should be made public, and there should be separate press conference by public health leadership and the government. Comments?

I agree with everything that was mentioned. We need to document the decisions that are being made by public health. We would like to see separate press conferences where we understand where public health is going versus where the government wants to go. More experts around the table is also a good thing because we would make decisions more based on facts and science rather than intuition and polls.

Regarding today’s shadow cabinet shuffle, why now?

Because we are entering the new year, a year of an election. I said in December that I was going to give the portfolio of health to somebody within my cabinet and I thought it was the right time to announce Monsef Derraji.

Monsef Derraji has a wide experience in health. He worked fifteen years in the pharmaceutical industry. He is a very strong manager. He just completed his PhD in public health. He also worked at the PAB, in senior homes. He has long experience, and we need to have perspective that is different, somebody that can look at things differently regarding health care. I thought it was the right time to do that right now.

Talk about Projet Éco, which you have charged two of you shadow cabinet members with leading.

Absolutely, we need to have a vision for society. The next election is also going to be about what kind of Quebec we want to see, we want to have. And, although health care is going to be a critical topic, there’s also going to be a question around what is the vision of the future.

I believe we need to have a vision for society that we call Eco. Eco for ecology, Eco for economy. It’s a combination of both where fighting climate change is at the top as the objective, and all the elements supporting the economy are going to be toward fighting to achieve this objective. And investments in water, in hydroelectricity, in hydrogen. So, this is the Eco project that we are presenting and that we’re going to be talking about this year and during the election period.

I saw a Québéc Solidaire comment earlier describing the announcement as a radical measure that will hurt the vulnerable. Are you prepared to give a more direct response to the substance of the announcement?

To me it’s pretty direct when we say that we need to find out what is the efficiency of this measure. We know that it raises questions around ethics, that it raises questions around vulnerable people that are not going to be able to pay. It raises so many questions. Fundamentally you can’t decide, as the leader of Quebec in the situation we are in, the worst in decades, that you come up with an idea and you are ill prepared to discuss it… It is really unacceptable. We would like to see a real debate around this.

You speculated that probably Legault had seen polls suggesting the idea may be popular. Surely, the vaccinated among us are consuming fewer hospital resources, they are tired and want to move on. Is your critique procedural or substantial?

I understand what you mean about procedural. But it is also substance. What if… In order to bring a proposal forward, if for example you say you’re going to make vaccination mandatory for all [public] employees, this has an impact into the efficiency. Because people will get vaccinated to keep their job. We know that. It’s been demonstrated. You’ve done it at the federal level and 97% of the people decided to get vaccinated. So, there are ways to get the people to get vaccinated. So, it’s also about substance. If there is no evidence there is going to be a positive impact on the result you are trying to achieve, why are we doing this?

So, these are fundamental questions. It is not only procedural. Fundamental questions are being raised. It’s probably going to have an impact on the most vulnerable people. It’s probably going to have an impact on the way we think about health care in general. So, ethical questions as well. I mean, you assume that children are not going to be impacted, but this would be an assumption. So, all these questions are really critical. … A parent that prevents their children from being vaccinated and has five or six children. I mean, so many questions can be asked, and we don’t have those answers.

What I’m hearing you saying is that you are not in a position to say whether the Liberal party will be for or against such a measure, but you are critiquing how it is being announced.

The lack of preparation, lack of results. No expected results. We don’t even know what to discuss.

Like, how much would it be? It won’t be $50. So how much would it be? $1000? $2000? $10,000? We don’t know anything, and they want us to comment on something that we don’t know anything about.

So, if you’re serious about something, you bring the proposal forward, you have the debate, with the information. You don’t improvise the way he does.

What will the Liberal party’s position be on a penalty or tax on the unvaccinated? Are you in a position to respond to that at this time?

There are many other things that I would do before doing this. Many other things. Mandatory vaccination for employees of the state, employees in the public service. Many other things. And we did not bring forward this proposal because it was not part of the thing that we believe we need to bring forward at this stage.

But again, you can’t comment on something you don’t have any information on. It is really hard, and that’s why you call it diversion.

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