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Elephants in the (Back) Room Add to ...

By my count, there are at least two massive and potentially very contentious issues that will affect the health and sense of well being of millions of Canadians over the next decade, but little evidence that they will be coming to a political stage near you soon.

Health care and retirement income are looming mega issues, but they enjoy elephant in the room status most of the time; we feel safer looking away from them until there is absolutely no choice. And who knows when that day will come.









Watching President Obama crusade for his health reform package in a Town Hall meeting this week left me feeling unsure about how his effort will turn out, but admiring his determination to face the issue squarely, and to reposition the debate to fit with the times.







His pitch to Republicans is cleverly tailored: if you don't like the deficits and debt, health reform is the way out. Campaign ads note that while some want nationalization and others say do nothing, the President's health package is a Goldilocks solution. In so doing, he acknowledges that the idea of government health care was out there, but it 's not his.







Here in Canada, many voters have concluded that our health care system, if not broken now, will collapse under several strains in the not too distant future. As the population ages, too many people will experience too much disappointment, and the conviction will grow that we don't have the best available health care, we have the best that can be affordably provided to everyone.







When it comes to life preserving health care, Canadians will abide government being unable to provide everything to everyone, but they will not tolerate being prevented from gaining access to better health service using the ir own means, if they can afford better. And most will eventually balk at the hypocrisy of extolling the virtues of our system over America's, even as a growing number of our people find it necessary to seek care south of 49. In short, it's only a matter of time before our political leaders choose to or are forced to find better solutions, to embrace more fundamental change much more aggressively.







It 's also pretty clear that we will have a crisis in the area of pensions and retirement income. Millions of people are heading towards what they hope will be a happy retirement, but the numbers suggest it will be a financial wall they hit instead. The solutions can cause political trauma now, or later, but there is virtually no chance to avoid conflict at some point in time. If one massive generation saddle s the rest of society with climbing costs, if those with public pensions are secure while those in private systems are forced to reduce their lifestyles, if expectations about wealth transfer are dashed because of basic cost of living considerations, we will need new ideas and new ways to talk about these issues , and new policy as well.







With health and pension reform, there will be political winners and losers. Often in the past, losers have been those who tried to tackle hot issues, and were scalded. Winners were those who stood back and attacked initiative, finding its weakest point and decrying change, while not necessarily offering an alternative.







This may continue to be the pattern for some time, but not forever.







At some point the craving for solutions will become too strong, and the leader who presents powerful new ideas with persuasive skill, has a chance to create massive and longstanding competitive advantage for their party.

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