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NDP Leader Jack Layton, seen campaigning in Regina on Tuesday, announced on Wednesday an $8-billion plan to support retraining workers and manufacturing. ((CBC))

NDP Leader Jack Layton announced an $8-billion investment plan on Wednesday to address manufacturing, saying a New Democratic government would not "stand by and watch an economic train wreck unfold in the manufacturing sector."

Layton made the campaign announcement outside the General Motors plant in Oshawa, Ont., where thousands of auto workers are expected to lose their jobs at a truck assembly line slated for closure in about a year.

The NDP leader said his plan, which calls for $2 billion a year over four years, would focus on retraining laid-off workers, as well as creating "green-collar" jobs and helping companies retool facilities for low-emission vehicle production.

"Unlike Mr. Harper, I still believe the auto industry has a great future in Ontario and Canada," Layton told a crowd of supporters. "We know we have the workers to do the job. We just need a government to step up to the plate."

Layton said his party would also create a federal jobs commissioner with "real powers to look at shutdowns."

The announcement came as Ford Canada announced Wednesday it will phase out a shift at its body and paint shops in Oakville, Ont., eliminating about 500 jobs.

Green protester removed from NDP event

Before Layton spoke, police politely removed a lone protester from the parking lot where the event was being staged, the CBC's James Cudmore reported from Oshawa.

Cavan Gostlin was protesting the NDP leader's previous refusal to allow Green leader Elizabeth May to participate in the nationally broadcast leaders debates. Layton indicated Wednesday that he no longer opposes May's participation in the debates on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.

"Come on, Jack. What are you afraid of?" said Gostlin, a Green party member who told reporters his ex-wife is Pat Gostlin, the Green candidate in Oshawa.

As Gostlin marched alone up and down the sidewalk beside the NDP event, two women bearing placards saying "Let Elizabeth speak" joined him.

Women's agency cuts 'stupid': Dion

The New Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals took their campaigns for the Oct. 14 election to the Greater Toronto Area on Wednesday in an attempt to target suburban voters in the key province, as many communities are reeling from thousands of manufacturing job losses in recent months.

In Mississauga, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion called the Tories' decision to slash funding for Status of Women Canada "stupid," saying the agency was targeted for ideological reasons.

Dion pledged that a Liberal government would restore funding to the agency, which works to advance women's economic equality and human rights, and eliminate violence against women.

"Explain to me why [in] a developed country, a celebrated democracy, its government decided to remove the word 'equality' from the mandate of the women's program of Status of Women Canada," Dion said while noting his party is fielding 106 female candidates in the election.

The Liberals are aiming to court voters in the Mississauga-Streetsville riding, won in the 2006 federal election by then-Liberal Wajid Khan, who crossed the floor to sit with the Tories in January 2007.

The NDP hopes candidate Mike Shields, a former CAW local president, can wrest the Oshawa riding away from Conservative incumbent Colin Carrie, said the CBC's Julie Van Dusen.

Harper: Green shift 'improvised'

Harper used his address to a group of Indo-Canadian business leaders in the Toronto-area riding of Vaughan, a seat currently held by the Liberals, to reiterate his position that a Tory government is best equipped to weather global economic uncertainty.

"Since taking office, our government has charted a consistent course on economic and fiscal policy," Harper said.

He also stepped up his party's daily attacks on Dion's Green Shift plan, saying the carbon tax proposal was "ill-conceived, improvised" and that even other members of the Liberal team have acknowledged problems with it.

"The choice is lower taxes or higher taxes, and an affordable plan or one that is wildly expensive, a modest plan or a grandiose scheme, certainty and stability or academic theory and a big gamble," Harper said.