Former U.S. secretary of state, senator, and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke on issues ranging from female empowerment to the Ukraine crisis last Tuesday in front of a sold-out audience at Palais des Congrès.
Clinton began her talk by addressing the importance of advocating for gender equality in Canada and the United States.
“There are so many opportunities in our own two countries to continue to push the expansion of the rights and opportunities for women and girls, but particularly for Americans and Canadians to do more to open the doors of progress, to create equality and justice everywhere,” she said.
According to Clinton, strong economic arguments are increasingly in favour of full workforce participation from women.
“We see in every country in the world what difference it would make […] if women and girls were able to have full access, and participate in the economy to the fullest of their abilities,” she said. “The empirical evidence is compelling. It shows that when women and girls participate throughout the economy, productivity and growth go up, which of course benefits everyone.”
Clinton gave advice to all those in attendance, but particularly for younger women facing criticism or hardship in the workforce.
“One of my favourite predecessors, Eleanor Roosevelt, wrote back in the 1920’s that if a woman enters politics or the public arena, she needs to grow skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros,” she said. “What does she mean by that? The way I interpret it is that you have to learn to take criticism seriously but not personally. After all, our critics can actually turn out to be our best advisors.”
Clinton’s speech was followed by a question and answer session, during which Sophie Brochu, president and CEO of Gaz Métro, a natural gas distributor in Quebec and Vermont, asked Clinton questions on a number of topics, one of which focused on the Ukraine crisis.
“What Putin did is illegal,” Clinton stressed. “It is against international law; it is not because we gave the poor little Baltic states NATO protection. And people need to say that and they need to be very clear that this is a clash of values, and it’s an effort of Putin to rewrite the boundaries of post-World War II Europe.”
Clinton went on to describe her views on what the United States should do to help with the crisis, and concluded with a call to “stand up for our values.”
“What I see is an enormous untapped potential for North American cooperation, within a vision of a partnership that is truly going to the next level,” Clinton said. “I think we will be stronger—the United States and Canada—the more we can cooperate on key issues, and three of those are energy, the Arctic, and our partnership in NATO.”
Leaving the question of possible 2016 presidential candidacy unanswered, Clinton jokingly said the audience “would be the first to know.”
The event, hosted by the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, was part of the Bell International Leaders series of speakers, past guests of which have included Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Among many notable attendees of Clinton’s speech were Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, and McGill Principal Suzanne Fortier.
Approximately 80 McGill students attended the event, as well as students from other universities. Fatima Ahmed, U3 Engineering, was pleased at the level of detail in Clinton’s answers.
“I thought she was a great speaker—very inspirational,” Ahmed said. “She really did dig deep into the major political issues that we’re facing currently [….] Whoever was here was very lucky because they got a really good female perspective on all the issues from a very strong lady.”
Diana Luk, U2 Science, was also impressed by Clinton’s ideas.
“She gave me insight on potential plans for the future,” Lukexplained. “Also I like how she explained the economical global situation and possible plans linking energy and environmentally-friendly issues. Other than that, I was happy to be here just to [hear] how she [became] so successful.”