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A candid Clinton in Canada Offers discourse on world economy

Even north of the border, Bill Clinton can wow a crowd like nobody else.

He proved it Tuesday at the Ontario Economic Summit, which had to switch his keynote speech to the Shaw Festival Theatre from a conference center 15 miles away in order to accommodate the 850 people who snapped up all of the $195 tickets on short notice.

"Clinton is a natural fit for us," said Len Crispino, president of the sponsoring Ontario Chamber of Commerce. Crispino declined to discuss what the organization paid Clinton, who reportedly commands speaking fees of up to $300,000, but added: "He's worth every penny."

And that was before Clinton uttered a word.

When he finally stepped out from behind the curtain, after the drive from Toronto, where he addressed an audience of thousands in the city's convention center earlier in the day, the former president warmed up the eager crowd with the sort of flattery familiar to American audiences. Clinton said he had hoped to spend the night in this picturesque village but needed to fly back to Washington to prep his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, for her next Democratic presidential debate.

"There's an election going on that I have to be more involved in than I usually am," he said. "I'm flying back to Washington to spend the night with her. But I told her if she does a good job, I'm going to bring her back here in the spring."

Clinton proceeded to give the summit organizers just what they had hoped he would -- a wide-ranging discourse on the world economy and nations' "shared responsibility" to make it a better place for mankind.

The United States during the George W. Bush presidency has failed to do its part and instead has lowered taxes "benefiting people primarily in my income group" at the expense of the less-well-to-do, Clinton said.

Eliminating global inequality will allow prosperous nations like the United States and Canada "to find new customers," he said. But in the United States, he added, "We've actually had people losing health care in the middle of a recovery."

Global warming and the failure to slow it by reducing carbon emissions will combine with rapid population growth to create an unsustainable situation, Clinton said.

"Most of that growth will occur in countries that can't support the people who live there now," he said.

"What that means is there will be more immigration -- legal and illegal."

The best course for prosperous nations like the United States and Canada would be to find a sustainable model for economic growth, he said.

"We can only make this work if people like you can figure out how to make money out of climate change," he said.

The former president also talked about "how identity conflict" has given rise to extremism in many parts of the world and added, "We've got to create a global consciousness."

Holding up al-Qaida and its fellow travelers as "the ultimate example of anti-common humanity," Clinton thanked Canada for sending its forces to help fight terrorism in Afghanistan.

"You did a good thing there, and I hope you'll stay," he said, to strong applause.

Clinton spoke for an hour and a half -- well beyond the one-hour event organizers had scheduled -- and took several questions afterward.


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