Bill and Hillary Clinton's excellent Ottawa adventure

When Hillary Clinton visited Ottawa as first lady with husband Bill in 1995, she got to see Canadian health care close up.

Smiles all around as U.S. president, first lady visited Canada in 1995

Bill Clinton's first presidential visit to Canada

29 years ago
Duration 2:37
The U.S. president's wife Hillary skates the Rideau Canal while her husband praises his Canadian counterpart in 1995.

When Hillary Clinton visited Ottawa as first lady with husband Bill, she got to see Canadian health care up close.

In February 1995, two years after his swearing-in, the 42nd American president had finally made his way up to Canada with his wife for a visit with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. 

"The trip lasted all of 30 hours," noted Peter Mansbridge, host of CBC's The National.

But in that time, the two leaders talked trade while Hillary Clinton visited a hospital before tying up a pair of skates to glide on the Rideau Canal.

Mutual admiration

Jean Chrétien and Bill Clinton were all smiles when they met during Clinton's first official visit to Canada in 1995. (The National/CBC Archives)

"The president and the prime minister had nothing but praise for each other," noted correspondent Jason Moscovitz at the top of his report, as the two leaders stood at lecterns.

"He is a very, very good leader," said Clinton, speaking about Chrétien.

And Chrétien agreed wholeheartedly.

"You know, I have to salute a person like that," he said, speaking about his counterpart.

And that wasn't the end of the apparent regard the two shared.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and U.S. President Bill Clinton formed a mutual admiration society, complimenting each other while talking to the media. (The National/CBC Archives)

"A state visit without a great deal of substance can get awfully boring," noted Moscovitz, who said that this particular meeting had more than enough "atmosphere" to make up for any lack of substance.

Moscovitz recalled the disdain Chrétien had held for his predecessor Brian Mulroney's chumminess with the American presidents he met with, saying he wouldn't feel the need to be on a first-name basis with any U.S. leader.

That had apparently changed.       

"When we are alone, I don't call him William J.," said the prime minister. "I call him Bill."   

Hillary's health tour

First Lady Hillary Clinton, seen here visiting an Ottawa hospital, said she was impressed with the "basic level of health care for every Canadian." (The National/CBC Archives)

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, had also found something to admire: Canada's health care system.

Along with a Canadian advisor, she had spearheaded an initiative to reform the American system, which she watched go "belly-up," according to Moscovitz.

While visiting patients at an Ottawa hospital, the first lady spoke in praise of the "basic" level of care for every Canadian that "actually saves you money."

Surrounded by kids, as well as by at least one photographer on blades, Clinton then skated down the Rideau Canal.

"Obviously a person from Arkansas wouldn't even try this," said Moscovitz, noting her Chicago origins.  

woman skating in cp photo
Hillary Clinton skates on Rideau Canal in Ottawa, in this Feb. 24, 1995, file photo. (Denis Paquin/The Associated Press)

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