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With TV funnyman Rick Mercer watching from the sidelines and Bare Naked Ladies singer Stephen Paige introducing him with a rousing song, NDP Leader Jack Layton leaped energetically to the stage of a packed-house rally in Toronto on Saturday.

“Tell Liberal voters that Paul Martin’s party needs a time-out to clean itself up and find out what it believes in,” Layton told the crowd of about 1,000 trade unionists and other NDP candidates and supporters. “Ask them to change their vote to the NDP.”

He added that the Conservative platform released on Friday was “full of ideas that are wrong for Canada,” noting that the people of Ontario “know exactly what a Conservative government looks like.”

As CUPE National President Paul Moist and other labour leaders stood behind him on stage, Layton repeated his promise to work for public health care. That includes pharmacare, long-term and home care for seniors, and more training for doctors, nurses and medical technicians.

“People are excited here today because they hear from Jack that public services will be protected by the NDP,” CUPE 2484 child care worker Marta Posada said. She also wants to see long-overdue action on pay equity. “Working women like me need to achieve economic equality and we know the NDP supports that goal.”

Layton also repeated his pledge to fight against child poverty and for quality child care so parents can “go to work without fearing for their children’s safety.” This spoke to CUPE 2191 member Esther Vikor who is “voting for the NDP to fight for better child care and social services.”

Artists and culture would also get support from NDP MPs, Layton said, as would environmental concerns, help and hope for young people who may be headed for lives of crime, and a clean-up of corruption in federal politics.

Layton’s support for students who are forced into debt resonated with CUPE 3902 member Judy Pocock. “We’re in a fight [at the University of Toronto] for better conditions for teaching assistants and for more money for education,” she said. “Our local supports the NDP and with our grassroots support we hope Olivia Chow [who was on stage with Layton] will win.”

Toronto NDP candidates at the rally also heard Layton praise the workers “who build this city each day” and pledge to stand up for them in a “work-for-working-people Parliament.”

“Jack and this rally helped to energize me,” said Sid Ryan, CUPE Ontario president and NDP candidate in Oshawa, Ont. “Because what I’m hearing at the door – that Liberal support is failing – I’m also hearing from the other candidates here today.”

“I’m excited and energized,” CUPE university worker Lindsay Foley said. “I think the NDP is going to make some real gains.”

“Labour needs to support the NDP for all our sakes,” added Kevin Gregory of CUPE 2316.

Layton began his speech with a famous quote from Tommy Douglas: “In the face of injustice, I will not stand idly by.” By the end of the rally it was clear that he and the gathered NDP candidates do not stand alone.