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'I consider the aboriginal situation, the Indigenous situation in Canada to be the single greatest blight on our citizenship,' former prime minister Brian Mulroney, seen here in Montreal on May 9, 2019, told The Globe and Mail in an interview Monday.

Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

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Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is urging Canadian political leaders to prepare for a post COVID-19 world by adopting bold economic and social policies including a dramatic increase in immigration, a serious productivity agenda and concrete action to address systemic racism and the injustices faced by Indigenous people.

Mr. Mulroney told The Globe and Mail in an interview Monday that Canadians need fresh new thinking from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and provincial premiers to confront the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the treatment of Canada’s Indigenous people – which he called the country’s most pressing social issue.

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“I consider the aboriginal situation, the Indigenous situation in Canada to be the single greatest blight on our citizenship,” he said. “We can’t move ahead with a new agenda for Canada if we don’t deal with the Indigenous people and systemic racism.”

Brian Mulroney: Canada, I know you can beat COVID-19

Mr. Mulroney said the federal government needs to study and implement recommendations from the Erasmus-Dussault Royal Commission, which he set up in 1991. The commissioner, chaired by Dene leader George Erasmus and Quebec Court of Appeal justice René Dussault, visited 96 First Nation communities and released 440 recommendations in 1996.

The commission called for “restorative justice by which we mean the obligation to relinquish control of that which has been unjustly appropriated: the authority of Aboriginal nations to govern their own affairs; control of lands and resources essential to the livelihood of families and communities; and jurisdiction over education, child welfare and community services.”

Virtually none of its key recommendations have been adopted.

“The aboriginal leaders themselves viewed this [report] as the Bible. In other words, they were saying if we can get this implemented, we can become full Canadian citizens and much more productive part of society,” Mr. Mulroney said.

One idea that he says would generate economic growth and enhance Canada’s influence in the world is to double the country’s population to 75 million.

“Immigration creates a great dynamism and effectiveness in the economy that generates new prosperity. The immigration communities in Canada are highly productive and great job creators and law-respecting citizens in the best sense of those words,” Mr. Mulroney said.

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Mr. Mulroney, a Progressive Conservative prime minister from 1984 to 1993, faced strong domestic opposition when he brought in a 7-per-cent goods and services tax and negotiated free trade with the United States and later worked to include Mexico in a trilateral trade pact.

On Monday, he called for a productivity enhancement program and the complete dismantlement of interprovincial trade barriers, and urged Canada to champion a free trade area of the Americas.

“The only way a nation can create new and genuine wealth is through its own productivity enhancement,” he said, pointing out that Canada’s productivity has been falling for 25 years. The 2019 World Economic Forum’s ranking of the productivity of Group of 20 countries saw Canada drop two positions to 14th among 20 large advanced economies.

Mr. Mulroney said Canada can boost its productivity through immigration, more free-trade agreements, flexibility changes in labour markets and tax reforms that encourage companies to modernize and invest in people.

Mr. Mulroney said Mr. Trudeau should also take up a leadership role in pushing for a hemispheric free-trade zone involving North and South America. While he acknowledged that can’t happen as long as President Donald Trump is in the White House, he said work needs to begin now.

“Canada is well respected in Latin America and we could provide the leadership to bring these countries onside and ultimately have a free trade area of the Americas,” he said. “Do you know what that would do in providing growth for them, and many of those countries desperately need it, and jobs for all.”

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On social policy, Mr. Mulroney also urged the Trudeau government to look seriously at bringing in a guaranteed income for those living below poverty.

Greater attention also has to be paid to protecting the environment without harming the economy and key industries, such as the oil and gas sector, he said.

Mr. Mulroney laid out these ideas in what he called an Agenda for Canadian Greatness in the Saturday Globe and Mail, which is asking prominent Canadians to share their thoughts on the current crisis and the path forward as part of the Zero Canada Project.

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