NDP leader Jack Layton made it clear Saturday that he's running for the top job of prime minister.
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, and asked Canadians to help him defeat Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
"I'm asking for a mandate to lead the next government," Layton said with a boisterous crowd surrounding him at the Chateau Laurier hotel, steps away from Parliament Hill.
Layton said he will put a stop to divisive politics and bring MPs together to get results for Canadians, without specifically using the word "coalition."
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, whether on a case-by-case basis or in "more stable arrangements."
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." He said 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 noted that the next prime minister will be the one to lead negotiations with the provinces on health funding agreements that are due to expire in 2014. Speaking directly to voters, Layton said he is the one to trust to get results and that he "won't stop until the job is done."
"We need Canadian leadership on health care right now," said Layton, who is coping with his own health issues including cancer and a recent hip surgery.
"I'm ready to serve as your prime minister and so is my team," Layton said.
The NDP leader said his party's platform would also include help for small businesses and that programs would be targeted to companies that keep jobs in Canada instead of sending them overseas.
The "sandwich generation" will also be a focus for the NDP, Layton said, with help offered to Canadians who are caring for young children and aging parents at the same time.
A few hours after the rally, the NDP's campaign plane lifted off for Edmonton, Alta., which Layton called "the Conservative heartland."
It's also the place the NDP pulled off an upset victory in 2008 and won the only non-Conservative seat in the province.