Less than a week after federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos mused about provinces imposing mandatory vaccination, Quebec announced it would start fining the unjabbed.
Or, to use the Quebec government’s disingenuous euphemism, Premier François Legault will make the unvaccinated pay a sizeable “health contribution.”
Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? Not a mandate, not a fine, just a nice little contribution to protect the healthcare system, a motive that continues to serve our overseers as a public policy trump card.
The proposal is already finding support from people who wish to conceal their contempt for the unvaccinated with actuarial tables.
According to a Maru Public Opinion poll commissioned by the Toronto Sun, some 60 per cent of Canadians are comfortable targeting the pocketbooks of those who, for whatever reason, have decided Covid vaccination isn’t for them.
Quebec’s approach is sneaky. Rather than charging and fining the unvaccinated, the province will exact the “contribution” through income tax filings. This sort of scheme seems to exist only so the government can claim it’s not a mandate per se, because people still technically reserve the right to not get vaccinated. They just have to pay for that choice.
However much the government wants to pitch this as an act of “benevolence” – as Duclos put it Wednesday – it is purely a punitive measure.
If you are vaccinated (which for the purposes of this plan means three doses), you may think this doesn’t affect you, but it certainly does. This isn’t just a tax on the unvaccinated, but a fee to enjoy bodily sovereignty, as if the right to control your own body is something can be handed out or taken back on a whim like Prince Andrew’s patronages.
If, like the Quebec government, you dislike the unvaccinated and have the singular goal of getting 100 per cent of the population vaccinated, regardless of the civil liberties implications, this sort of scheme is surely welcome.
Quebec is already claiming victory because of a significant spike in first-dose appointments. This strikes me as a failure rather than a success, if those getting vaccinated are only doing so because they can’t withstand the state’s punishment for not doing so.
It is nonetheless important to be mindful of the longer term moral and legal consequences of what Quebec is doing.
Beyond being just plain wrong, it raises equity concerns that once would have unnerved many of the same people now cheering on this government overreach. Like most lockdown measures, the tax on the unvaccinated disproportionately punishes the poor. The wealthy can afford to pay the fee and get on with their lives, just as they could work from home, order food delivered, and fly across otherwise closed borders at the heights of previous lockdowns.
The Quebec government’s stated objective in the bodily sovereignty tax is that the unvaccinated cost more to the healthcare system. If this were the real motivation, Legault could go all the way and say Covid treatment for the unvaccinated will not be covered by the province’s public health insurance. In reality, the proposal makes no distinction between fit, young, healthy unvaccinated people unlikely to suffer adverse effects from Covid infection and those triple-jabbed but otherwise living the most unhealthy lifestyles imaginable.
Fans of Canada’s vaunted universal healthcare system should be immensely uncomfortable with the precedent here. Quebec is adopting an approach which expects people to pay for their share of healthcare resources. To raise a comparison many others have this week, why treat being unvaccinated any differently than obesity or smoking? Both are likely to elevate one’s need for healthcare and almost always result from individual choices.
If we’re interested in reforming the healthcare system to conform with risk and choice, we can have that discussion – but that isn’t what’s happening here.
Quebec’s vaccine tax has nothing to do with healthcare. It’s just an attempt to punish the unvaccinated for making a choice with which the state disagrees.
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