08/31/2015 12:35 EDT | Updated 08/31/2016 01:12 EDT

Time for PM who cares, Mulcair says in unveiling measures to help native women

SASKATOON — NDP Leader Tom Mulcair unveiled new measures Monday aimed at curbing violence against aboriginal women as he promised to undo what he called an "underlying attitude of racism" that he says has prevented a national inquiry into the issue.

Mulcair made his pitch in Saskatchewan, a province with one of the highest rates of violence against women, where he said he would repair the federal government's relationship with indigenous women.

"Now I say this to every mother, to every daughter, to every sister, that it's time you had a prime minister who cares," Mulcair said in Saskatoon.

Mulcair committed to restore a shelter enhancement program scrapped by the Conservative government, saying it would have sufficient funding to ensure no woman in need is turned away from a shelter.

He also vowed to work with women's groups, indigenous peoples, communities and organizations to create a national action plan to end violence against women and girls, with dedicated funding and benchmarks for progress.

That's on top of Mulcair's previous commitment to call an inquiry into the nearly 1,200 aboriginal women who have vanished or been murdered since 1980. He said he would launch the inquiry within his first 100 days in office.

"If there still hasn't been an inquiry today, to this date, on murdered and missing indigenous women in Canada, it's because of an underlying attitude of racism," he later added.

"We're going to change that attitude."

Campaigning in Ottawa, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said his government has implemented a series of initiatives to improve safety for aboriginal women, including giving police more investigative tools and providing more money for prevention services.

"We also brought in a series of criminal justice reforms to make sure there are serious penalties for those who commit violence against women, obviously commit violence more generally," Harper said.

"Also, we're making use of the existing 40 studies to figure out what additional action we should take, so we're taking a whole range of actions across the spectrum."

A report in January from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the Organization of American States, said aboriginal women in Canada are murdered or disappear at a rate four times higher than their representation in the population.

The Canadian Press