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Politics U.S. politicians steal the show at climate summit in Toronto

California Governor Jerry Brown, right, speaks to reporters with Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, left, and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at the Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto on Wednesday, July 8, 2015.

Darren Calabrese/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It's a cliché to complain about the Americanization of Canadian politics. The increasingly vicious attack ads. The SuperPACs. The unregistered lobbying.

But if there is one facet of our system that emphatically does not emulate our neighbours to the south, it's political rhetoric.

Simply put, when American politicians show up in Canada, they resemble the Harlem Globetrotters interrupting a polite neighbourhood game of pickup basketball.

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California Governor Jerry Brown certainly proved this at the recent Climate Summit of the Americas in Toronto, where he swiftly stole the show from Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Quebec's Philippe Couillard.

To illustrate how technology changes, he said: "People at the turn of the century in London were worried about 'Where are we going to put all the horse manure? There's a lot of horse manure with all those carriages. What the hell are we going to do?' So they invented the car. Same with whales. Thank God we found oil or we would still be killing whales."

And he was only getting started.

"We can't wait for propaganda from certain oil companies or conservative parties that don't want to do anything … the stakes couldn't be higher and the hour is very late," he said, spinning a basketball on the tip of his index finger.

"We're up against the fact that human beings are hard-wired for events, for a gunshot or a wild animal chasing us," he said, effortlessly passing the ball between his legs.

"There's a lot of people out there who don't get it. They're asleep. They're on the Titanic and they're drinking champagne and they're about to crash," he said, wrapping the ball around his body and pump faking before a slam dunk.

Mr. Brown also referred to the Earth as a "spaceship," global-warming deniers as "troglodytes" and told Prime Minister Stephen Harper to "get with it" on carbon pricing. Mr. Brown's punchy style was certainly helped by his delivery, which involved half-shouting every second sentence. ("Write this one down!" he exhorted his audience before delivering one zinger.)

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As Mr. Brown spoke, Mr. Couillard chuckled to himself in the background, looking a bit like the respectable Montreal doctor whose loopy-but-lovable cousin from San Francisco had unexpectedly showed up to crash on the couch.

And it wasn't just Mr. Brown.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, while highlighting his state's aerospace industry, went on a digression about space exploration.

"I think colonizing Mars would be great – only if it's a choice, not a necessity," he quipped.

Even Al Gore – best known for being so boring that he lost a presidential election to George W. Bush – showed a little grandiloquence while describing the apocalyptic floods and forest fires brought about by climate change.

"The television news is a nature hike through the Book of Revelation," he said.

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So: Should Premiers Wynne and Couillard be brushing up on their biblical references and describing Edwardian-era Londoners scooping up horse manure? Colourful as that would be, there's a reason Canadian politicians – aside from the odd Jean Chrétien, Ralph Klein or Pierre Trudeau – rarely get this fun.

If our politicians tend to be reserved and subtle, it's because they govern an electorate of largely reserved and subtle people who reward reserved and subtle leaders.

This is a country, after all, that has elected Stephen Harper three times, and whose largest province gave Dalton McGuinty back-to-back majority governments. Philippe Couillard came to power last year largely by portraying himself as the safe, anodyne choice next to the separatists of the Parti Québécois.

It's hard to imagine any of them whipping out Mr. Brown's or Mr. Inslee's or Mr. Gore's cornier lines without a massive collective groan from the audience.

Call it the Jersey Shore effect. An American does it and we're entertained at the brash spectacle. A Canadian tries it and it's nothing but hot air.

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