Credit: CJCS visits Canada / Wikimedia Commons Credit: CJCS visits Canada / Wikimedia Commons

NATO’s holy proportion. I agree with Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan, who recently moaned that “We still have NATO allies, Canada one, who just freeload. And it’s getting a little tiring.” I agree. It is getting tiresome.

The charge is built around a target number: two per cent of GDP per country should go to military spending. NATO more or less pulled it out of their ass in 2014. It’s not compulsory or justified, anywhere that I can find.

U.S. military spending is around 3.7 per cent, though stats are even shadier here than in areas like unemployment. To widen the view, Saudi Arabia’s at 8.4, Algeria’s 6.7, Russia’s 4.3, Israel 5.6. They aren’t in NATO, but they’re all in the military throw-your-weight-around game.

Why isn’t the U.S. embarrassed to be so low? We’re between 1.3 and 1.4 per cent, putting us in a NATO subdivision with Germany, Spain and Netherlands — not bad company, IMO, and well ahead of Belgium or Ireland. Numbers worldwide are all over the map. Argentina’s at .8; Finland’s at 1.5. Could someone please explain again why our figure is shameworthy?

Canada compared to the U.S. and Europe

Two other points. The U.S. is a country largely built, socially and economically, around its military. It’s hard to find Americans who don’t have family who “served,” even many decades after the universal draft was abolished. Money spent on arms goes directly to U.S. corporate profits and domestic jobs. The recent $40-billion aid bill for Ukraine that President Joe Biden signed starts right off with “Replenishment of U.S. weapons stocks ($9 billion).”

That’s orders for U.S. arms makers. The more war, the more profit. That’s not rhetoric, it’s economics. Canada has a healthy arms industry, well represented in Ottawa by ex-generals. But it’s bupkis compared to the U.S. So why should their preferred targets apply to us?

Plus, Canada isn’t in Europe. We’re in NATO for historical reasons based in past eras. We’re in a very different strategic situation than Italy, Germany or France. Operating distinctly from NATO wouldn’t stop us from supporting, say, Ukraine at the moment. Or working with the U.S. on Arctic air defence.

In case it requires saying, I think we need armed forces, just as we need police forces. The issue is whether they are fit for purpose — and what that purpose is.

Stand on guard for public education

 The U.S. Supreme Court has just OK’d the use of publicly funded vouchers for private Christian schools. In the U.S. this is viewed through the lens of separation of church and state. But I think what’s more sinister is the further collapse of public education there.

With public voucher funding, wealthier parents will send their kids to private schools, while covering additional costs. The public schools will survive, barely. They’re already debilitated. As a result, racial and economic gulfs will yawn even wider, damaging social cohesion.

Our equivalent is “special” schools in the public system: French immersion, arts, science, etc. In Toronto, there’s been an outcry against recent plans to disband those schools. But they came into existence largely — as officials sometimes let slip — to dissuade wealthier parents from sending their kids to private schools. The thinking was, in order to save public schools, much like Vietnamese villages in the 1960s, you pretty much had to destroy them.

What’s the alternative? To “enrich” all schools, so everyone gets a shot at an enriched education. Or make special routes available to less privileged kids. That in turn would require more funding, which governments routinely resist.

Why does it matter? Because the deepest purpose of public schools is to introduce kids to the kind of multifarious society they live in, via actual experience. Then it can withstand the stresses that keep striving to destroy it.

It’s hellish to force parents as individuals to choose between what’s good for their kids and what’s needed for a robust, diverse society. That’s why the burden should fall on all of us together, acting collectively and democratically.

This column originally appeared in The Toronto Star.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.