O’Toole opposes ‘tax and target’ plan on unvaccinated as Quebec moves forward with levy

O’Toole, who encourages vaccinations but opposes mandates, called Quebec’s proposal unfair and predicted that the vaccine hesitating to have a chance will not be coaxed

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OTTAWA – Conservative leader Erin O’Toole says that while he respects provincial jurisdiction, he is against Quebec’s plan to tax and deal with those who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

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The Tory leader made his stance known on Prime Minister Francois Legault’s proposal at a Facebook Live event late Thursday. Some of its MPs had already taken to social media to condemn the proposal as discriminatory, unethical and punitive for low-income people.

Quebec is moving forward with a plan to levy the “health fee” on adults who refuse to receive COVID-19 vaccinations and will soon reveal details, Legault said Thursday.

The prime minister said the legislation to introduce the measure will come in February. He argued that it is necessary because about half of patients in intensive care are unvaccinated, even though only about 10 percent of adult Quebecers have not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“There is no question of harming people who are in trouble. Our goal is to tell people who choose not to get vaccinated that there is a price to pay because it will have an impact on society and how much our healthcare system costs,” he said.

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Legault unveiled the proposal on Tuesday, sparking a nationwide debate about how far governments could go to ensure widespread vaccinations as the Omicron variant spreads.

Other counties report similar trends as officials warn that health system capacities are vulnerable in the face of the blazing-fast spread of the more transmissible Omicron strain of COVID-19.

O’Toole, who encourages vaccinations but opposes vaccine mandates, called Quebec’s proposal unfair and predicted it won’t convince those hesitant to get a chance to finally roll up their sleeves.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday he needed more details about Quebec’s plan before saying whether he supports it. The federal New Democrats have also not taken a position on the plan.

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Trudeau said the province has indicated it will follow the Canada Health Act, which regulates the country’s universally funded health care system that the provinces provide.

O’Toole, on the other hand, said Quebec’s proposal is inconsistent with Canada’s approach to health care and that it is easy to pit “a frustrated 85 percent of the population against another 10 or 15 percent of the population. “

“Vaccinated people are getting frustrated with what they see as a small group of people holding the country back,” O’Toole said.

He blamed Trudeau’s failure to provide better access to rapid antigen testing and personal protective equipment to force provinces to re-impose restrictive public health measures, despite Canada’s highly vaccinated population.

Trudeau, for his part, has criticized O’Toole for saying that those who remain unvaccinated should be allowed to undergo rapid tests, rather than losing their jobs or being sent on leave under mandatory vaccination policies.

O’Toole is not the first conservative leader to express his disapproval of Quebec’s plan. Saskatchewan Prime Minister Scott Moe and Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney did so earlier this week, with both ruling out the possibility of introducing a similar penalty for unvaccinated residents of their provinces.

— With additional reporting by David Ljunggren, Reuters

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