Legault drops vaccine tax over worries about dividing Quebecers

By Gordon Lambie – Local Journalism Initiative
Legault drops vaccine tax over worries about dividing Quebecers
Quebec Premier Francois Legault responds to reporters questions during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic, Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022 at the legislature in Quebec City. (Photo : THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot )

In a move similar to the one they made in the fall of 2021 regarding the suspension of unvaccinated healthcare workers, the Quebec government has backed down from its plan to tax the unvaccinated.

In a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Premier François Legault said that although a bill was prepared so that the matter could be debated on the floor of the National Assembly, it will not be tabled in light of concerns over the “social cohesion” of Quebecers.

“I understand that this announcement divided Quebecers,” the Premier said, expressing his opinion that the people of Quebec as have typically been unified in their opinions in the past and expressing concern about. Citing an increase in anger in the population and the unified disapproval of opposition parties, Legault said that the plan announced on Jan. 11 will not be put in place, after all.

The news came alongside information that a convoy of protestors similar to the one that made its way to Ottawa at the end of last week may be headed to the provincial capital shortly.

“Some people are very nervous, stressed about the situation,” Legault said, adding, “I have to make sure that I protect the health of Quebecers, but I also need to protect the peace in our society.”

The Premier denied that the decision was made because of the new convoy, arguing that he had been considering the possibility of not implementing what the government was referring to as the ‘healthcare contribution’ last week, but also said that he wants to find balance and build bridges in the midst of worries about growing divisions within the population.

“Solidarity is part of our values in Quebec,” he said. “I don’t like to see Quebecers divided.”

Aside from the announcement about the tax, the premier also said that sports and leisure activities for adults will be allowed to start reopening as of Monday Feb. 14. Games and activities of up to 25 people will be permitted, and gyms and spas will be able to open their doors again.

The public health department in the Eastern Townships also held an update on Tuesday, putting a focus on getting people out to the local vaccination centres before the first week of March.

“The main goal is to protect the community,” said Robert Parenteau, Commanding Officer of the 52e Ambulance de campagne reserve unit and part of the team coordinating the local vaccination campaign.

Parenteau said that there are about 68,000 people out of around 500,000 in the region who have not gotten a COVID-19 vaccine to date and said that an effort is going to be made in the coming days and weeks to try to reach out to this population and learn more about their concerns.

“A lot of people are hesitant, and we are not going to try to force a decision,” the campaign coordinator said, acknowledging that there are some people who are not just hesitant, but hostile to the idea of vaccination.

“We don’t have a magic pill to help people go in what we consider the right direction,” said Dr. Alain Poirier, the regional Public Health Director. “The difficulty we have when we speak to 500,000 people all together is that we don’t start from exactly where they are,” Poirier added, explaining that outreach teams will be tasked with listening to the concerns that unvaccinated people have and trying to find information that will help them feel better about the situation. Both Poirier and Parenteau said that no one will be asked to commit time and energy to anyone more militantly opposed to the vaccine, however.
Looking ahead to the coming month, local vaccine campaign coordinator Jean Delisle said that only 58 per cent of the appointment slots available in February are currently taken, meaning that there is plenty of opportunity for people to get their first, second, or booster shot if desired.

Although a focus had been placed in the region on prioritizing booster shots for those over the age of 18, Delisle said that the 5–11-year-old campaign will be heading back into certain schools in the region starting next week, and that mobile clinics will start to be set up at locations like post-secondary schools and seniors’ homes.

There were 153 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Townships on Tuesday, 16 of whom were in intensive care, and one more death recorded, for a total of 501 since the start of the pandemic.

The Province of Quebec reported 2,852 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Tuesday, a decrease of 36 compared to the previous day. Intensive care numbers also decreased slightly, dropping by five to reach 218.

The province recorded 63 new deaths for a total of 13 286 since the start of the pandemic.

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