More than 700 people crowded into an auditorium near McGill University's downtown Montreal campus on Friday morning to welcome former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

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Bill Clinton is honored by McGill University on Friday morning. ((CBC))

The 42nd American president was dressed in McGill graduation robes as he accepted an honorary doctor of laws degree for "a lifetime of outstanding leadership."

During his hour-long speech at the Mount Royal Centre, Clinton charmed the audience with tales of philanthropic exploits and called for action on world hunger.

He also joked about his affinity with Canada.

"When we were walking up the stairs, your principal said to me, 'You seem to share Canadian values,' " Clinton told his audience. "There were many occasions when leaders of the Republican Party suggested that I might want to move to Canada. And many when I thought it wasn't a bad idea."

The former U.S. president also addressed health-care reform, the thorniest U.S. domestic political issue that he failed to resolve while in office.

Reform is inevitable, given that the U.S. health care system is financially unsustainable, Clinton said, predicting that current President Barack Obama will succeed in his efforts to overhaul care.

McGill officials said an alumnus and close friend of Clinton's orchestrated his appearance at the university. The school did not pay him to accept the honorary degree.

Clinton is the second U.S. president to be awarded an honorary McGill degree. Franklin Roosevelt was the first. He was decorated in 1944, at the height of the Second World War, along with then British prime minister Winston Churchill.

With files from The Canadian Press