Anti-vaxx tax: Cover for governments and bosses to shirk responsibilities

The Parti communiste du Québec (PCQ-PCC) condemns the Legault government’s plan to introduce a tax targeting unvaccinated adults who do not have a medical exemption. Such a measure has nothing to do with health beyond undermining healthcare and public services in general. It is part of a series of tactics and policies which, rather than improving healthcare, serve to empower employers while giving the false impression that the government has things under control.

Guaranteeing public services requires two essential conditions: first, a public monopoly and second, the universal access to the service provided. But the very principle of universality is abandoned through a tax targeting unvaccinated adults. Moreover, as soon as an additional contribution is required to access health care, private insurance companies can seize upon this as a business opportunity. This undermines the key element for public services: the public monopoly.

The government is trying to justify the tax as a pandemic measure, by pointing to the spike in COVID-19 infections. But there is no indication that the tax will be abolished once the situation is under control. On the contrary, this announcement hints at the Legault government’s longer-term: to “save” healthcare through its privatization and dismantling. Introducing regressive taxation into the health system by stealth and then universalizing it is part of this long-term strategy. The only ones who will benefit are the private insurance companies – whose bosses are probably rubbing their hands with hand sanitizer!

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the disastrous consequences of thirty years of dismantling, chronic underfunding and deregulating of healthcare, as well as exposing it to private competition. With an $11 billion gap just to the care levels before the first draconian “zero deficit” cuts, appalling working conditions (mandatory overtime, poverty wages, oppressive schedules, etc.) forcing thousands of hospital staff to leave and just-in-time supply management, there is no doubt that the system was already far from able to meet the population’s needs in the event of a pandemic. With only 2.5 beds per 1,000 people – one of the lowest rates in the OECD – it is like a fire hall only equipped to put out a straw fire, suddenly facing a total inferno.

However, instead of confronting the problem seriously, through massive reinvestment and opening new beds (through the “zero deficit” budgeting, seven Montreal hospitals had to close their doors), the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government has spent the last two years continuing its pro-corporate and anti-union approach. It was only a matter of time before the system was overwhelmed, as happened with the Omicron outbreak in December.

Falsely taken by surprise, the government has constantly announced new measures, usually contradictory, to make people believe that it is in control of the situation. With one hand, it imposes a curfew and with the other, it asks nursing and hospital staff infected with COVID to return to work. It forces restaurants to close on New Year’s Eve with just a few hours’ notice but then announces a return to class for January 17 with only a few days’ notice, thus preventing schools from implementing appropriate health protocols. It says the isolation period for workers can be reduced but without the resources – due to restricted access to PCR tests and a shortage of rapid antigen self-tests – for determining if a person has COVID.

Into these contradictory measures, the government played its next card: a health tax for unvaccinated adults, to make a scapegoat of this minority of the population. It was a highly political maneuver. With just a few months to go before the next election, it lays the groundwork for an entirely new right-wing opposition to the CAQ by sending the most virulent conspiracy theorists towards Éric Duhaime and the Parti conservateur du Québec, with Québec solidaire playing the role of left-wing opposition. The CAQ can then position itself as moderate and centrist, putting it in position to crush the Parti Québécois and the Liberals. The bosses will already be planning their feast with a mighty and victorious CAQ in October.

The anti-vaxx tax is also a good tactic for distracting attention from substantive debates. So, instead of tackling thirty years of policies of systematic destruction of healthcare, public services and manufacturing, Legault uses the anti-vaxx fad to hide his responsibility for the sorry state of public services – which he is preparing to completely dismantle anyway.

In all the government’s recent press briefings, one common theme shines through: the priority is never to ensure Quebecers’ health. Instead, the focus is on the question of sparing the health system, just as it has been since the first wave when director of public health Horacio Arruda mimicked “flattening the curve.” In other words, after almost two years no progress has been made. The capacity of the health network has not increased, the number of hospital and nursing staff has not increased, the number of available beds has fallen from 17,000 to 12,000 due to lack of staff and just-in-time management, no laboratory has been requisitioned to manufacture a sufficient quantity of PCR and rapid antigen tests, etc.

This is François Legault’s sad record of managing the pandemic. His narrow vision, based on the primacy of profits rather than access to care and public services for confronting the virus, has a deadly and disgraceful cost: more than 30,000 people have died since March 2020.

These deaths were not inevitable. They could have been avoided. While it is true that in March 2020 no one knew which way to turn, the fact that we are dealing with the same problem 22 months later is nothing less than an admission of defeat by François Legault as well as the opposition parties. The latter, after all, supported Legault’s management of the crisis without the slightest substantive criticism, until it was too little and too late.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Communist Party has repeatedly stressed that the way out of this crisis is through the expansion of public services and health policy that is not tied to private monopoly interests. However, with the “antivaxx tax” as well as with the expansion of the vaccine passport to more businesses, the government is not only eroding individual freedoms but is clearly announcing that its plan to end the crisis does not include increased funding for public services. On the contrary, it seeks to completely dismantle them.  

Parti communist du Québec

Translated from French by PV staff

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