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Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter, right, looks on as Robert Chisholm, MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, announces his bid for the leadership of the federal NDP in Dartmouth, N.S. on Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011.Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Robert Chisholm touted his experience as former leader of the NDP in Nova Scotia as he announced on Sunday he'll be the eighth candidate running to lead the federal party.

Mr. Chisholm, who is now MP for the riding of Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, is well known in Nova Scotia for leading his party to official Opposition status in the 1998 provincial election when his party won 19 seats in the legislature.

Premier Darrell Dexter, who was once Mr. Chisholm's campaign manager, attended the campaign launch at a Halifax restaurant, accompanied by most of the key players in the provincial party.

Mr. Dexter offered his endorsement and said the MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour had been an underdog before in provincial battles against the once-dominant Liberal and Conservative parties in the province.

"He'll be a fighter, he'll be a challenger every step of the way," said Mr. Dexter, noting he had once managed Mr. Chisholm's election campaigns.

Mr. Chisholm acknowledged in his campaign launch that some see him as a long shot in the race to succeed former leader Jack Layton. Mr. Layton died in August after a fight with cancer.

He quoted his former leader saying, "Don't let them tell you it can't be done."

"Like Jack Layton, I know it can be done. That's why I'm here today and that's why I'm in this race to win."

However, the unilingual candidate acknowledged that learning to speak French is a challenge for his campaign.

He only offered a few sentences in French to the audience, and was unable to answer a Radio Canada reporter's question in French nor to assure her he would be capable of doing so by the time of the leadership vote next March.

"I fully appreciate the need for a federal leader who speaks both official languages and I have the track record of stepping up to do what needs to be done, even when it's tough," he said.

Mr. Chisholm has been taking French-immersion courses in Quebec and Ottawa since he won his seat in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.

Mr. Chisholm was first elected as a member of the legislature in the Halifax Atlantic riding in 1991 and held it until resigning in 2003.

He was leader of the party from 1996 until 2000, taking the party to Opposition status in the 1998 election that saw the NDP secure the Halifax area as its key stronghold in the province.

After dropping out of politics in 2003 he worked as a researcher and regional director of CUPE for four years.

He was the co-chair of the Nova Scotia NDP government's transition team when the party took office in June 2009.