TORONTO - A hoarse but energetic Bill Clinton told a Canadian audience that self-deprecating Canucks may poke fun at themselves, but said people worldwide would kill to live in Canada.
"You may want to make fun of yourselves all you want, but there are many people who would kill to live in an environment like this," the former American president said.
Clinton's speech "Embracing Our Common Humanity," praised Canada's healthcare system, but lamented the unequal distribution of wealth and opportunities between rural northern Canadians and those who live in urban centres.
A joke-cracking and impassioned Clinton spoke to a crowd at the Canadian National Exhibition Saturday afternoon, only hours after attending the funeral of U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy in Boston.
"I hope that his lifetime dream that America finally will follow Canada and every other advanced nation in the world in providing affordable healthcare to all of our people will pass," Clinton said of Kennedy.
Clinton expressed hope that his country will follow Canada's lead and adopt a health care system that ensures everyone has access to medical care.
Using examples from town hall meetings held across the U.S., Clinton tried to explain why his country was so reluctant to change the way it delivers health care.
Clinton unsuccessfully attempted to reform the American health care system 15 years ago and is looking on as current President Barack Obama is trying to bring in reforms.
Clinton said that in the U.S., there were "incentives to keep people misinformed and full of fear."
Clinton wasn't limitless in his praise for Canada. He noted a divide between people living in urban areas and people in poverty-stricken rural communities like those in Canada's north.
"By and large people who live in the northern part of Canada, who are your native people have a per capita income much lower than the national average," said Clinton, who called it "a pattern repeated throughout the world."
"If you live in a poor country and you have no shot, chances are you have no shot because no matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work, you don't have the systems that we take for granted," he said.
Clinton called on his audience to contribute to fighting global poverty on an individual level, saying donating a dollar a month, or even a year, will make a difference.
Hafeez Ladha,24, who is completing a Master's of Public Health, has seen Clinton several times before, and participated in several of Clinton's international AIDS projects, said he is inspired by the president's call.
"He discussed how each individual can contribute in their own personal way towards big humanitarian causes, so even though there's certain causes that we may feel are out of our reach, he made that personal and brought it down to our level."
Ladha credited Clinton for inspiring him to study public health.
"He's done so much for domestic society, for international society, for healthcare for the social benefit of the world, so it's obviously an incredible person to hear from."
Clinton spoke specifically to young people, telling them "it's better to do something you care about than something you're better at."
Janicije Karic,13, an aspiring tennis player visiting from California, said he was especially inspired by Clinton's call.
"You should pick what you love, and that will get you somewhere good in life."
Lines were winding but moved briskly into the stadium as last-minute ticket buyers waited to upgrade their CNE admission ticket to see the ex-president for just $5 more.
Tom Woods stood outside the gate, moments before the president took the stage, after driving from Ottawa to see Clinton speak.
"I think he just has a unique personality and he's respected all over the world."
But not all attendees were inspired by Clinton's words.
Adu Raudkivi, from Toronto, called Clinton's references to Canada and the Kyoto Accord vague and said he was unimpressed with the former president's speech.
"He was just making a lot of noise, not really saying anything," he said. "It would be better having a former Canadian Prime Minister to give their points of view to where Canada is going."
Organizers had originally intended to sell 25,000 tickets to fill BMO Field, where Clinton was speaking, but scaled down the size of the event to about 10,000 after it became clear it would not sell out.
To spur sales, organizers offered people a chance to hear Clinton speak by only paying an extra $5 on their CNE admission ticket.
Still, Saturday's crowd was the largest Clinton had ever addressed in Canada, organizers said.