TORONTO - Jack Layton is calling for universal prescription drug coverage for all Canadians, and he's making an appeal to Canada's business community to help out.

In a speech planned for Friday at Oakville's Chamber of Commerce, Layton says he has been approached by young families who tell him they have to choose between mortgage payments and prescription medication.

With provincial premiers and ordinary Canadians onside, Layton says his campaign will be unstoppable with the help of Canadian business.

He says Canadians spend more on drugs than they do on doctors - with money spent on drugs running second only to hospital costs.

Because business spends about $10 billion for prescription drug coverage, and government spends $9 billion, Layton says it is in everyone's best interest to ensure all Canadians are covered and costs of drugs are reduced.

The Pharmacists Association of Canada say people have to walk away from pharmacy counters and medication they have been prescribed because they just can't afford it, according to Layton.

In the same speech, Layton says Canada's "prosperity gap" can be closed by reinstatement of federal minimum wage, the ending of ATM fees, a lowering of gas prices and affordable education and training.

He also says the federal Conservatives are making Canadians choose sides in the "phoney war" between environment and the economy.

Layton says Canada's economic future is intrinsically linked with the future of the planet and that the Canadian government should ensure that the economic frameworks are in place to capitalize on this.

Indicating the potential of a market-based cap and trade system for big industry, he says pollution reduction targets must be legislated from the federal level to ensure Canada honours its international commitments.

He says if industry does not start to build the "green" cars that consumers want, then countries like China will, resulting in jobs and investments draining away from the Canadian economy.

A national energy retrofit program for all buildings, as well as tax incentives for greening industry are necessary if Canada is to save money and energy, according to Layton.

Layton says there have been disturbing job losses in key sectors, including 150 manufacturing jobs being lost per day to layoffs, plant closures and retiring workers not being replaced.