Canadians are swimming in bromides about the wonders of medicare - served up willingly by their national party leaders, who celebrate the system without doubting its sustainability, and who are gladly handing over 6-per-cent annual increases in funding before talks with the provinces have even begun. Canada's business community, after too long on the sidelines, could provide a welcome reality check.
They are starting small. As Tara Perkins reports in Wednesday's Globe and Mail, some of Canada's major financial institutions, joined by other business partners, are coming together to fund the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care, a research group being formed by the Conference Board of Canada.
Behind a $1.6-million think-tank lies the opportunity to tell some starker truths. Some issues are indeed too serious to be left to the politicians alone, and not just because frank talk about health care's sustainability has been lacking in this election campaign. Health care needs champions across all sectors; otherwise, there will be little appetite for the tough choices that will be involved in keeping it sustainable.
A new coalition is needed to shed light on the cost trajectory in health care, and to work with businesses to research the best ways to reduce costs - including more market-oriented solutions, or private delivery when necessary.
At the same time, the Alliance also creates an opportunity to remind the business community of our underlying strength. Our single-payer, taxpayer-supported medicare system isn't just something Canadians value - it is a comparative advantage in the international marketplace; when it is working well, it both provides high-quality health care and relieves businesses of the obligations many business in the United States take on.
Call it ominous forewarning, or public conditioning - but a growing chorus that calls for reform could coax politicians "out of their bunkers," in the words of economist Don Drummond. If our leaders won't lead, perhaps others can drag them to the right place.