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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government will need more details on Quebec’s plans to impose a tax on those who refuse COVID-19 vaccinations before it takes a specific position on the issue.

“We’ve received that proposal with interest by the Quebec government, but there are a lot more details we need to hear about how this would work before I can make any comments on it,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference on Wednesday.

“The details will be important in how this works, how this balances the values and the rights we all cherish as Canadians with the necessity of keeping people safe.”

On Tuesday, Quebec Premier François Legault said the province would be enacting a policy of making the unvaccinated pay a “significant” financial penalty because the unvaccinated against COVID-19 occupy a disproportionate number of hospital beds, leading to an impact on the health-care system. He said details of the plan are in the works.

The Prime Minister, on Wednesday, did note that Quebec has assured Ottawa that it plans to stand by the principles and rules of the Canada Health Act as it proceeds on the policy.

Asked by a reporter why he wasn’t being more clear in his opinion, and “hiding” behind the absence of details, Mr. Trudeau said, “I understand that it’s easier to get a headline when you have a simplistic answer but these are very complex issues.”

Montreal Reporter Eric Andrew-Gee, Parliamentary Reporter Marieke Walsh and Montreal Correspondent Nicolas Van Praet reported here on Quebec’s announcement this week.

The plan has led to varied reactions across Canada, with, for example, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association saying Quebec’s plan is deeply troubling. Story here.

New Brunswick’s Premier says the idea of charging a tax on those who refuse a COVID-19 vaccine is “a slippery slope” that could move into other categories of health, eroding the public-health system. Story here from CTV.

This is the daily Politics Briefing newsletter, written by Ian Bailey. It is available exclusively to our digital subscribers. If you’re reading this on the web, subscribers can sign up for the Politics newsletter and more than 20 others on our newsletter sign-up page. Have any feedback? Let us know what you think.

TODAY’S HEADLINES

DETAILS OF INDO-PACIFIC STRATEGY BECOMING CLEAR - Global Affairs is proposing a multibillion-dollar Indo-Pacific strategy that would shift Canada’s reliance away from China by diversifying trade and investment in Asia, the Pacific Rim and beyond while boosting security and international assistance contributions to the region. Story here.

UKRAINE PRESIDENT CALLS FOR MORE SANCTIONS - Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy told Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that the West must be ready to impose further sanctions against Russia for its military buildup on his country’s eastern border. Story here.

NO SECURITY REVIEW OF CHINA STATE-OWNED COMPANY ACQUIRING CANADIAN COMPANY - Ottawa did not conduct a formal security review on the pending acquisition of Canadian lithium company Neo Lithium Corp. by Chinese state-owned firm Zijin Mining, paving the way for the deal to close. Story here.

THE FATE OF DR. ARRUDA - Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec’s top public-health official when COVID-19 hit, employed a down-home style that endeared him to Quebeckers in the pandemic’s early days, but he was ground down by 22 months at the helm.

TROUBLES IN THE BC LIBERAL LEADERSHIP RACE - The committee overseeing the BC Liberal leadership race, contending with complaints from six of seven contestants about the validity of its membership list, is seeking to assure them and the public that it will root out any fraud. At issue in the Feb. 3-5 online voting is the leadership of the party that governed the province from 2001 to 2017. Story here from The Victoria Times Colonist.

CANADA-U.S. RELATIOSHIP AT LOW POINT: O’TOOLE - Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said today the Canada-U.S. relationship is at its lowest point in decades — a development that threatens to stall Canada’s growth and derail some sectors of the economy. Story here, from CBC.

THIS AND THAT

The House of Commons has adjourned until Jan. 31 at 11 a.m. ET.

HOUSING INFLATION PROMPTS FINANCE COMMITTEE MEETING - Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance is meeting Wednesday after four of 12 members requested the gathering to discuss Canada’s housing inflation crisis. In a statement, committee member Pierre Poilievre, the Conservative finance critic, said he initiated the study, which was supported by the four Conservatives on the committee and the Bloc Québécois member. The meeting is scheduled for two hours , begins at 2:30 pm. EST, and can be viewed here.

NOT BANNING FOSSIL FUELS: ENVIRONMENT MINISTER - The federal Environment Minister says he is not banning fossil fuels. Questions over the issue arose over a Q&A interview with Steven Guilbeault in The Narwhal available here. Mr. Guilbeault talked about a Liberal government commitment to phase out fossil fuel subsidies by 2023. Later in the piece he talked about “phasing out fossil fuels,” without adding the word subsidies. The office of Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole issued a statement saying the Liberals “want to phase out Canadian energy over the next two years,” and underlined the point in a video posted on social media of the Opposition Leader, on Parliament Hill, denouncing such a measure. Gabriel Brunet, Mr. Guilbeault’s press secretary, said, in an interview, that the Minister meant to add “subsidies” to the comment. In an e-mail exchange, Caitlin Stall-Paquet who did the Q&A said The Narwhal will actually be making a correction to the piece to include the word “subsidies” in that instance. Mr. O’Toole’s office has not responded to a Globe and Mail request for comment on the matter.

EXTENDING CEBA REPAYMENT DEADLINE - On Wednesday, the federal government announced an extension of the repayment deadline for loans under the Canada Emergency Business Account, which has provided interest-free, partly forgivable loans to small businesses and not-for-profit organizations during the pandemic. The deadline is being extended from Dec. 31, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2023.

THE DECIBEL – On Wednesday’s edition of The Globe and Mail podcast, Atlantic Canada Reporter Greg Mercer shares the story of the Taigh Sgoile na Drochaide – or the Bridge Schoolhouse in English. It’s the first Gaelic-immersion school in the country and the people who founded it in Mabou, N.S., hope one day it’ll be the first of many.

PRIME MINISTER’S DAY

Private meetings in Ottawa. The Prime Minister addresses the COVID-19 situation, with Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, International Trade Minister Mary Ng and Public Services and Procurement Minister Filomena Tassi, followed by a media availability.

LEADERS

No schedules released for party leaders.

OPINION - QUEBEC’S ANTI-VAXX TAX:

John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail) on how refusing the COVID-19 vaccine comes with a price: Mandatory vaccination is not a yes/no question, but rather a question of degree. No one is proposing the unvaccinated be strapped to a table and forcibly injected. The real question is how far governments should go in restricting the freedom of people who refuse the vaccine. “There are ramifications,” for refusal, said Colleen Flood, University Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Ottawa, in an interview, “and so really it’s a question of how tough those ramifications are.”

Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail) on how Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole remains offside by pandering to the unvaccinated: Mr. O’Toole may feel that “reasonable accommodation” must be made for vaccine holdouts, but that is surely a minority position in Canada today. On the contrary, the majority want more vaccine mandates to persuade the unvaccinated to do the right thing. They must feel the walls closing in on them even more. To this end, Quebec Premier François Legault announced Tuesday that those in his province who refuse to get vaccinated for non-medical reasons will soon have to start paying a “significant” health care tax – a drastic move that will no doubt receive broad public support, as it should. If some want to call this an unfair demonization or marginalization of our fellow citizens, go for it. That’s certainly how some will prefer to see it. Others will view it differently. Others will see vaccine mandates as measures that might help end the hostage-taking that the unvaccinated have been carrying out in Canada for far too long now. Erin O’Toole is on the wrong side of this issue. And the people of this country may not forget it.”

André Picard (The Globe and Mail) on Quebec’s unvaxxed tax being punitive and unhelpful: “Tax the unvaxxed” has a nice ring to it. But as tempting as it to impose a financial penalty on unvaccinated members of society, Quebec’s plan to demand an additional “health contribution” from those who have not yet received a COVID-19 jab misses the mark. There’s a fine line between incentivizing and punishing, and this time Premier François Legault has crossed it.”

Don Martin (CTV News) on the case against mandatory vaccination as Quebec dives into latest COVID-19 wave: “So, what will happen if other provinces dare to follow Quebec’s lead and violate patient privacy to find and fine the vaccine resistance? A lot of them will probably ignore the order. After all, it defies comprehension that a still-unvaccinated Canadian who has denied themselves access to restaurants, transportation or theatres and who is willing to walk away from a well-paying job would suddenly white-flag their arms at the threat of a modest tax or wrist-slapping fine. And the enforcement challenges are awkward as we wade into this uncharted medical water.”

Bill Brownstein (The Montreal Gazette) on why it’s not a good bet that a tax will move the unvaxxed: “Money is not always the issue. The sad reality is that no amount of calm explaining — with gusts to frantic preaching — has helped convince the vociferous 10 per cent anti-vax minority in Quebec that it’s mostly their lives at risk, that it’s them taking up an inordinate number of beds in our overburdened hospitals, that it’s their stance curtailing heart and cancer operations for others, that it’s them making the lives of the majority miserable . One can spout all the scientific research out there to this lot, but to precious little avail. They will spout theories about everything from the malevolence of mRNA vaccines to placing their trust in higher deities. They are so dug in at this point that little will move them.”

OPINION

The Globe and Mail Editorial Board on how a Cold War deal may offer a way out of the collision course between Russia and NATO over Ukraine: So what do Washington, London, Paris, Berlin and Ottawa want in Ukraine? For Russia to recognize and respect the country’s independence. Given that Moscow has already bitten off two chunks of Ukraine, negotiating an exit from the Russian orbit will be no easy thing. But Mr. Putin, a nostalgist for all things Soviet, might just be willing to embrace one of the few happy results of Soviet policy in postwar Europe: The Austrian solution.”

Robyn Urback (The Globe and Mail) on Ontario playing politics with classroom learning, with the kids as the collateral damage: Mr. Ford could almost be forgiven for jerking kids around for two years – for subjecting children and their parents to the enormous emotional strain of enduring instability, among other things – if it was apparent that these decisions were being made because of an unyielding fidelity to precautionary principles. These decisions still would have largely neglected the mental-health effects of rolling lockdowns and school closings, but at least they would’ve been rooted in a genuine desire to preserve the physical health of the greatest number of people in Ontario. The absence of a clear, empirical explanation for closing schools in January – and, even more conspicuously, for announcing they will open now, as hospitalizations are climbing – indicates that something else is driving these decisions. It’s pandemic planning by polling, with children as the collateral damage.”

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