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She opened with a "Peg" joke, gently refused to be drawn into a debate about the Keystone pipeline or her political future and earned two standing ovations from a huge Winnipeg crowd.

In between, likely presidential contender and former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton gave a shout-out to Manitoba Hydro's plans to build a new power line to Minnesota and a nod to rookie mayor Brian Bowman, the city's first Métis mayor. She called Bowman's election a symbol of Canadian tolerance, and no one in the crowd of nearly 2,000 seemed to mind Clinton pronounced the S on the end of Métis.

Speaking without notes and untethered from the podium, Clinton began by extolling the friendly relationship between Canada and the United States. When a mentally ill gunman attacked Canada's Parliament buildings last fall, she said Americans watched in worry.

"We all held our breath on the other side of that border of ours," said Clinton. "We watched as Canadians pulled together."

But, as she has in other recent speeches in Canada, she refused to offer an opinion on the thorniest issue between the two countries -- the fate of the Keystone pipeline.

"You won't get me to talk about Keystone," Clinton told CIBC president and CEO Victor Dodig, who hosted the post-speech Q&A. "It's in our process, where it belongs."

As expected, though Clinton is likely to announce her bid for president this spring, she was also coy about her political future.

When Dodig noted slyly that her time as secretary of state would be great preparation for the presidency, Clinton smiled and gave him a "n'uh uh" finger wag.

But she did speak at length about global affairs, including the crisis in Ukraine, Iran's nuclear program and the threat of Islamic extremists.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Winnipeg, Wednesday.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at a Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Winnipeg, Wednesday.

She said more could be done to shore up Ukraine's battle with pro-Russian separatists, including helping to improve Ukraine's corrupt and often chaotic governance and economy. And she said the West must do more to help Ukraine defend its borders while also giving a voice to disenfranchised Ukrainians in the east who have legitimate cultural and religious ties to Russia.

She also made fun of Russian President Vladimir Putin for installing himself for a time as prime minister to get around his country's presidential term limit.

Clinton said the world must combat the growing threat of violent groups such as the Islamic State by empowering moderates in the Islamic world, cracking down on the use of the Internet as a propaganda and recruiting tool and shoring up western democratic values at home. That means showing the world the West protects free markets, human rights, equality and diversity.

"Great democracies like yours and mine have to set that example," she said.

As she has in other recent Canadian speeches in Vancouver and Calgary, she opened with some local flavour, saying Winnipeg's weather doesn't bother her because she grew up in Chicago, "the Winnipeg of the south." She also told the crowd she hoped to visit the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which she did later in the afternoon.

And, dipping her toe into a controversial topic in Manitoba, Clinton said a planned hydro line into Minnesota is an example of cross-border co-operation and holds the potential to save both countries money and boost the use of clean energy.

Nearly 2,000 people paid $300 to hear Clinton's lunchtime speech at the RBC Convention Centre, part of the Global Perspectives series sponsored by CIBC.

Spotted at Wednesday's luncheon were Lt. Gov. Philip Lee, provincial Conservative Leader Brian Pallister, Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, University of Manitoba president David Barnard and business leaders such as Gendis's James Cohen, Wow! Hospitality's Doug Stephen, lawyers David Filmon and Gail Asper.

Security was not overwhelming. Organizers said sniffer dogs were brought in earlier, and those in attendance were asked to check coats and large bags, but police and other security officers were discreet.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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