The United States is making a mistake by moving in the opposite direction of Canada on cultural diversity, immigration and social harmony, former U.S. president Bill Clinton told a receptive audience in Montreal on Wednesday night.
“Canada has done such a good job of both managing its contemporary diversity and it has a very interesting immigration system,” he said at the Bell Centre, where he and his wife, former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, made their second stop on a paid speaking tour of North America.
The 13-stop tour, An Evening with the Clintons, began in Toronto on Tuesday.
“And yet it’s still Canada,” Clinton added. “And I just think that you can model the idea that you can become more diverse and still keep your culture and your values. It’s really very good for a modern economy.”
Canada has the capacity to embrace and influence the world in a positive way, he said.
“And the United States will have to return to that if it expects to play a positive role in the future,” said Clinton, who served as 42nd president of the United States. “It’s going to be very bleak indeed if we all become more authoritarian and more homogenized and hunkered down on ourselves. It would be a big mistake. We shouldn’t do it.”
U.S. President Donald Trump was never mentioned by name during the discussion that lasted just over an hour. However, the Clintons referred to their nemesis throughout as they spoke of “tribalism” and an “authoritarian model” that holds up the economy and society.
Hillary Clinton, who was defeated by Trump in the 2016 presidential election, also held up Canada as a kind of antidote to the divisive and authoritarian model favoured by her rival.
Besides admiring Canada for its cultural diversity, she said, “I also really applaud the economic model.” Canada created a social safety net, especially with health care, she said, while still “having one of the most dynamic economies for building the middle class of any place in the world.”
Canada’s system provides “a basic level of human support that everybody should have,” she said. “It should be a right, not a privilege.”
The authoritarian model is taking hold in Europe as well, she said, “and Canada appears so far to have escaped that. And I can only hope that it continues.”
Canada has the same tendencies toward partisanship and “resentment politics,” she added, but “to continue to fight against that and keep trying to bring the country together around common goals while maintaining your separate identities … seems to me to be the model that people are going to wake up and look for again.”
“So I’m looking to you, Canada, to bring us back to our senses,” she said.
The Clintons stirred controversy in Toronto, with Hillary Clinton suggesting that Trump is “part of the coverup as to what happened” in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
However, the discussion in Montreal, moderated by New York fashion designer Tanya Taylor, a former McGill University student, focused largely on less-than controversial topics, such as the role their mothers played in their lives and what they admire most about each other. Taylor presented each of the Clintons with a Montreal Canadiens jersey, with Hillary Clinton, who was raised in Chicago, admitting that she grew up as a Blackhawks fan.
The Montreal stop was well-attended, but wasn’t a sellout. The Clintons appeared to have drawn a bigger crowd here than in Toronto. Ticket prices in Montreal ranged from $68.75 to $443.75.