Former U.S. President Bill Clinton spoke to thousands in Toronto on Saturday, saying Canadians should be proud of their health care system.

"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," he said during a late-afternoon speaking engagement at the Canadian National Exhibition.

Clinton flew into Toronto immediately after attending a funeral service for late Senator Edward Kennedy in Boston.

He said he hoped that the U.S. would adopt a health care model similar to Canada's.

Clinton tried to explain to Canadians why the U.S. is so reluctant to change their oft-criticized system.

In the U.S. there are "there were "incentives to keep people misinformed and full of fear," he said.

But the former Democratic president was not without some criticism of Canada, saying there was a divide between urban areas and people living in the poverty-stricken communities in Canada's north.

He said it was a "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.

About 10,000 people gathered in BMO Field to hear the high-profile speaker. It was a disappointing number for CNE organizers who thought Clinton would draw in about 25,000 people.

At the last minute, the CNE announced it would be selling tickets to the event for $5 plus the cost of admission to the fair grounds. Tickets were originally priced between $20 and $50.

"I thought we'd sell 25,000 tickets in retrospect I was really na�ve about that," said CNE General Manager David Bednar, adding that people likely made summer plans long before Clinton's appearance was announced.

"We've learned some lessons from this and I wish we were more successful with this but (we got) 10,000 people together - that's a sizeable event," he said.

Despite the lagging ticket sales and poor weather, Clinton managed to captivate his audience with his speech, titled "Embracing our Common Humanity."

Spectators said they were thrilled to hear the former president speak.

"He's going to be so exciting, I have shivers about it," said one woman.

Other people who were at the Ex for the midway games said they had no desire to hear Clinton speak.

"People want to come out and have fun, they don't want to hear about politics," said another woman.

Clinton has become a renowned public speaker since leaving the White House, commanding a fee of about $175,000 per speech.

The CNE would not confirm how much they paid Clinton for his appearance. Earlier this month, CNE officials confirmed that part of Clinton's fee will be paid for with money from the Marquee Tourism Events program, a federal stimulus fund that can provide up to $3 million for a single event.

This was Clinton's first appearance in Toronto since he secured the release of two American journalists earlier this month from North Korea, where they were held for more than four months on charges of entering the country illegally.

Organizers confirmed earlier this week that Clinton would honour his commitment to speak in Toronto, despite attending Sen. Kennedy's funeral earlier in the day.

With files from CTV Toronto's Reshmi Nair and The Canadian Press