Alberta premier doubles down against ‘vax-tax’

Alberta’s premier is once again denouncing the idea of taxing people over their COVID-19 vaccination status after the federal government said they’re looking forward to hearing more about Quebec’s plans to proceed with the fee.

Premier Jason Kenney believes the idea of a tax on the unvaccinated is a slippery slope and could lead to other taxes.

“If we’re going to go down that road, then [what about people who are] overweight? Do we put everyone on a weight scale and determine based on their weight that they have to pay extra to access the healthcare system?”

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But Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, says the “slippery slope” argument is ridiculous.

“I think [these arguments] stem fundamentally from a concern about government overreach and setting a precedent for government to do more down the road,” she says.

“But there’s a profound difference between a health concern that affects you and you alone and a health concern that other people can catch — a highly contagious virus that other people can catch — that can threaten or endanger their lives or their health.”

She says while things like obesity may have implications on the healthcare system, the comparison between an obesity tax and a tax on the unvaccinated doesn’t track.

“Those other things may have implications for the health-care system in general terms, but they don’t pose an immediate crisis to the health-care system or to the life or wellbeing of other people,” she adds.

“It’s a profoundly different area. It isn’t comparable to things like unhealthy foods or being overweight.”

Comparisons were also made between the “unvaccinated tax” and “sin taxes.”

Williams says sin taxes are established to try and change behaviour.

“If somebody has an unhealthy habit, that’s only going to affect those with an unhealthy habit, and those who don’t have the habit don’t really care about it one way or the other,” she said.

She explained the comparison doesn’t work because, with COVID, the unvaccinated have a direct effect on other people.

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“COVID-19 has this sort of polarizing effect. The people who are not being vaccinated are putting others at risk, they’re putting the healthcare system at risk, they’re putting the people who can’t be vaccinated — like kids under five — at risk.”

She also notes that more people in Quebec have gotten the COVID-19 vaccine after hearing threats of a potential tax.

Williams says it can work to push some people towards getting the shot, but it can have a negative effect in entrenching others in refusing to get it.

“[The tax] could make the polarization problem even worse,” she said.

Kenney also made the argument that the proposed tax from Quebec would discriminate against the homeless, people with mental health issues, immigrants, and impoverished people.

“The implication of this policy is that low-income unvaccinated people would be denied care, which is I think inhumane in unethical and certainly un-Canadian,” he said.

“We, as a society, through universal public healthcare agreed to accept the consequences of people’s choices — we may not like it, but it’s a moral obligation we have.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that incentives and strong measures have worked in getting more Canadians vaccinated and keeping them safe.

“We need to know exactly what measures they’re putting forward. We need to know the terms and conditions so we can know if it’ll be effective,” he said. “We’ll be looking at the details to see how exactly this will transpire.”

He added that Quebec assured the feds that everyone will continue to have equal access to health care without financial or other barriers, but that people who decide not to get vaccinated for non-medical-related reasons would be charged a levy.

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