On Jan. 11, Québec Premier and Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) Leader François Legault announced his government’s intention to impose a “health contribution” tax for people who refuse to be vaccinated without receiving medical exemption. At a time when the pandemic is reaching uncontrollable proportions in the province, it isn’t hard to understand the CAQ’s goal: divert attention away from their criminal mismanagement of the pandemic response and lay the blame on the scapegoat of choice, the “anti-vaxxers”.
For some time now, pressure has been mounting on the government due to the skyrocketing number of infections since the arrival of the Omicron variant. The media, which had hardly criticized the management of the pandemic for months, has begun to question the CAQ government. This led to the resignation of Dr. Horacio Arruda, the national director of public health in Quebec, who took the blame for the situation. Immediately after that, Legault announced his intention to make the unvaccinated pay.
Finding themselves in hot water, the government is looking for ways to shirk its responsibility. Legault is in fact using the same public health “management” method that he applied throughout the pandemic, i.e. doing as little as possible while placing the burden on the shoulders of individuals. During the second wave, he blamed young people and partygoers. His unnecessary curfew was used to pretend he was doing something while outbreaks continued to occur in the workplace. After the partygoers, the anti-vaxxers have now become Legault’s new whipping boys.
But as we saw with the introduction of the curfew, the CAQ doesn’t care if such measures are actually effective against the virus. The CAQ’s primary goal is to shift attention away from its mismanagement by laying the blame on individuals.
While this “health contribution” may push some unvaccinated people to change their minds, it risks reinforcing the feeling that public health measures are arbitrary and authoritarian, which creates even more distrust. What we can then expect is not greater vaccination rates but rather an expanded and consolidated opposition to vaccination, masking and confinements.
Further, although anti-vaxxers make a lot of noise, not all unvaccinated people are individualistic “covidiots”. The 10 per cent of people who have yet to receive a first dose of the vaccine include vulnerable people such as the elderly, the homeless and those with mental health challenges. It is hard to see how a new tax will motivate marginalized people who are at the bottom of the income scale and who have been left behind since the beginning of the pandemic. Further impoverishing the poor has never helped anything! In this case, precisely the opposite is needed: more resources for social housing and psychosocial support would certainly help to remove barriers for the most marginalized who are still not vaccinated.
The government insists that a small unvaccinated minority is responsible for the problem, but this rhetoric serves to mask the real problem. There are only 21,000 hospital beds in Quebec today, or 2.5 per 1,000 people. This is well below the World Health Organization recommendation of five per 1000. There were 54,741 staffed beds in Quebec in 1986. It is not a minority of anti-vaxxers who are to blame for the crisis; rather, it is the systematic destruction of the health care system over the past 30 years through austerity, combined with the CAQ’s complete inaction on this front over the past two years, that is to blame. The CAQ must not be allowed to divert attention from its refusal to invest in strengthening the health system. It is this inaction that has created the current catastrophe.
The minority that is the real the burden
After almost two years of the pandemic, not all health-care workers have access to N95 masks, and we may have to wait until the pandemic is over before we have proper ventilation in schools! But nothing should surprise us anymore. As was recently revealed, the CAQ knew before the virus arrived in Quebec that a disaster was brewing in the CHSLDs (long-term care/nursing homes) but did nothing and pretended not to know! And since the very first days of the pandemic in March 2020, the government rushed to help businesses to the tune of $2.5 billion, but promised nothing to the health-care system. Since then, it’s been the same old story: profits first, and then we’ll see about the rest.
If we really want to make those who are a burden on the health-care system and a threat to the population pay, we should start with the CAQ cabinet. And after that, we should move on to the Liberal and Part Québécois governments of the last few decades and make them pay for their imposed austerity in health care. While we are at it, let’s add a line to the tax returns of Bouchard, Couillard and Barrette, forcing them to pay for this disaster! And if it is really a “matter of fairness”, as Legault says, we should drain the coffers of the bosses—who force employees to put themselves at risk, even to work with COVID-19, for their own profits.
In Quebec, Canada, and all throughout the world, the capitalist class and its governments are the real minority which is a burden upon the majority. It is this small minority who put the health of their profits before the health of the population and who are driving our health services into intensive care. If we let them, they will lead us all the way to the morgue.