Canada's 41st federal election campaign began Saturday morning after Prime Minister Stephen Harper emerged from a meeting with the Governor General, who agreed to dissolve Parliament and send Canadians to the polls on May 2.

Referring to the "disappointing" events of a day earlier, when his government was defeated by a motion of non-confidence, Harper thanked Canadians "for the confidence and trust" they have given him for the last five years.

"It has been a privilege and an honour to serve as prime minister, especially prime minister of the best country in the world, as together we have faced the most difficult days of the global economic recession," he said.

He went on to say that the global economic recovery remains fragile and that armed conflicts, political chaos, humanitarian disasters and other threats are posing risks to that recovery, and now, so is an election.

Launch mode

The federal party leaders hit the campaign trail with speeches and rallies Saturday. Here's a roundup:

The opposition parties are forcing an election that Canadians don't want and the economy doesn't need, said Harper, in his remarks outside the front doors of Rideau Hall.

The campaign now underway is blocking the Conservatives from implementing the economic plan presented in its budget on March 22, that was immediately rejected by all three opposition parties.

"To my fellow Canadians I say this: the opposition parties have made their choice. Now we Canadians get to make ours," he said, announcing that May 2 will be election day.

Voters will pick between "a stable, national government" that will keep taxes low and create jobs, and, "a reckless coalition," that will kill jobs, halt the economic recovery and put families back.

Ahead of Harper's appearance, Ignatieff released a statement insisting he won't try to form a coalition with any other party. But the Liberal leader defended coalitions as a "legitimate constitutional option" in Canada's parliamentary system.

Despite Ignatieff's statement, Harper was adamant his Liberal rival would try to form a coalition government with the NDP and Bloc Québécois. The only thing those parties would be able to agree on is spending more money and raising taxes, said Harper, who repeatedly pushed the economy and the coalition messages throughout his remarks and responses to questions from reporters.

Asked how he interpreted the vote of non-confidence that brought his government down Friday, Harper said Canadians don't care about the wording of motions and political manoeuvres, they care about their economic well-being and the standing of Canada in the world.

"That's what that vote was about and that's what this election is going to be about," said Harper.

The Conservative leader, who represents a Calgary riding, is kicking off his campaign Saturday afternoon in Quebec City.

Soon after the writ was dropped, Ignatieff spoke to reporters on Parliament Hill and later in the day will hold a rally in downtown Ottawa. He will later travel to Montreal, where Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe is spending Saturday. Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jack Layton kicked off his campaign with a rally at a hotel steps away from Parliament Hill and a few hours later was heading for Edmonton.

Campaign 'a moment of contrast': Ignatieff

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Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff stands with candidates as he launches his campaign in front of Centre Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Saturday. Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

It's starting to become clear just what script each party will follow. The Conservatives are hitting hard on the election being unnecessary and irresponsible, and can build a campaign around the hold-steady style of budget they presented earlier this week. They are painting the opposition parties as a threat to the economy and arguing a coalition is inevitable if voters don't choose the Conservatives. 

The opposition parties say the issue is one of ethics and respect for democracy, which they say are lacking in the Conservative Party. 

Speaking on Saturday outside Parliament, Ignatieff called the coming campaign "a moment of contrast" between the Harper government, which he said has shown "contempt for the fundamentals of democracy," and the Liberal alternative. 

"We will be offering Canadians a government of the people, a government devoted to the people," he said, flanked by a group of Liberal MPs.

The Liberals are expected to focus on recent scandals hitting the Conservatives, including charges of electoral fraud for two senators, allegations staff interfered with access to information requests and an accusation a former senior advisor to the prime minister tried to use his influence to promote his girlfriend's business. 

Struggling families 'left behind': Layton

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NDP Leader Jack Layton at his campaign launch in Ottawa on March 26, 2011.

The NDP, meanwhile, say they're the real alternative to the Conservatives because in many ridings their candidates run second to the Tories who won seats.

NDP leader Jack Layton asked Canadians to help him defeat Harper's Conservatives and elect him prime minister instead on May 2.

In delivering his first speech of the campaign, Layton vowed to bring "Canadian leadership" to the job and to fix what he says is broken in Ottawa.

"I'm asking for a mandate to lead the next government," Layton said with a boisterous crowd surrounding him at a downtown Ottawa hotel.

Layton laid out the broad strokes of his campaign, saying the NDP will present concrete proposals to help the struggling  families that Harper has "left behind." His party will introduce "affordable" measures to improve the country's pension system, put forward a plan to ensure families have access to child care and education, and will improve health care.

Layton said if a minority government is elected on May 2, he can be counted on to reach out to the other parties and work with them either on a case-by-case basis, or, in "more stable arrangements."

"I will work with the mandate you give me," Layton said.

The Bloc say they're the only party who can defend Quebec's interests.

Non-confidence

The opposition Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois came together Friday afternoon in a historic vote to say they no longer have confidence in the Conservative government. 

The motion says the House agrees with a committee report tabled earlier this week that found the government in contempt of Parliament, "which is unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and consequently the House has lost confidence in the Government." 

Earlier this week, the procedure and House affairs committee tabled a report that said the government is in contempt of parliament for refusing to supply enough information on the cost of the F-35 fighter jets, their justice system reforms and their projections for corporate profits and tax rates.