Former prime minister Brian Mulroney says he would hold a Royal Commission on missing and murdered aboriginal women if he were Canada’s leader today, in a sharp rebuke of Stephen Harper.

In a wide-ranging interview with CTV’s Power Play host Don Martin, Mulroney said it’s an important issue that needs to be examined. 

Harper has rejected calls for a public inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, saying the cases should be viewed as crimes and are not a “sociological phenomenon.”

Mulroney, who won the largest majority government in Canadian history 30 years ago, said Thursday he can see both sides of the debate.

“But if I were there, I wouldn’t hesitate,” he said.  “I would have a Royal Commission into aboriginal issues of this kind because of the sensitivity and the importance to aboriginals at this particular time in their evolution.”

When Mulroney’s Progressive Conservatives were in power, he appointed the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in 1991. The final 4,000-page report was published five years later, with numerous recommendations for long-term changes aimed at improving the lives of Canadian aboriginals and their relationship with Ottawa.

Mulroney said the Liberal government under Jean Chretien “didn’t act upon” some of those recommendations. 

“But that doesn’t mean that a more tightly designed Royal Commission now wouldn’t have beneficial effects,” he said.

Mulroney critical of Harper’s actions

Mulroney didn’t hold back when asked about the Harper government’s approach to key issues, including the environment and foreign affairs.

After Canada lost its bid for a seat on the UN Security Council to Portugal, “you should look in the mirror and say: ‘Houston, I think we have a problem,’” Mulroney said.

He singled out John Baird as an “exceptionally talented” foreign affairs minister, but said Canada’s foreign affairs approach “has to be enveloped in a broader and more generous sweep that takes in Canadian traditions and Canadian history in a much more viable way.”

Mulroney suggested that Harper doesn’t have a close relationship with U.S. President Barack Obama, saying that a prime minister doesn’t “have much clout internationally” without a solid rapport with the White House.

The former prime minister also sounded off on Harper’s spat with Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin.

Harper had suggested that McLachlin behaved inappropriately when she tried to flag potential problems with Federal Court Judge Marc Nadon’s appointment to the Supreme Court .

"You don't get into a slagging contest with the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, even if you thought that he or she was wrong," Mulroney said.

Conservatives have to be ‘careful’ ahead of election: Mulroney

Mulroney also weighed in on next year’s federal election, calling Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau a formidable opponent who should not be underestimated.

“When somebody is leading in the polls 14 months in a row, this is not a fluke,” he said. “The prime minister and his colleagues are going to have to be pretty vigilant here.”

Mulroney said Trudeau is a “different kettle of fish” compared to former Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff.

He said Trudeau’s charisma may be just what the voters need after 10 years of Harper government.  He said the Tories have to be “careful” when it comes to Trudeau because even though Harper is a “tough, strong principled individual,” Canadians – and especially the middle class – are looking for change.

Critics say that Trudeau doesn’t have a program, but “his program is that he’s not Stephen Harper,” Mulroney said.

“I won because I wasn’t Pierre Trudeau. And then Jean Chretien 10 years later won because he wasn’t Brian Mulroney. So it’s part of a desire for change, which is normal.”

Mulroney also cautioned against dismissing NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair’s chances in 2015, calling him “the best opposition leader since John Diefenbaker.”

“The idea that this is going to be a two-party tap dance is wrong,“ he said.