VANCOUVER, B.C. - New Democrat Leader Carole James didn't wait for Premier Gordon Campbell - she hit the campaign trail early Tuesday, well before the premier even officially launched the election.

Campbell was expected to visit Government House in Victoria on Tuesday afternoon and officially start the campaign for the May 12 vote, but the New Democrat election bus made its first stop in Vancouver Tuesday morning.

James said the top priority in the election will be the economy and the latest rise in unemployment numbers proves Campbell's economic plan isn't working.

"People will be looking to say who do they trust to take care of them, their family and their community during these difficult economic times," she told supporters at the first rally of the campaign.

She said British Columbia had the worst job loss in the country in March and that predictions are that unemployment will continue to rise.

She said the Liberal government is completely out of touch with what's been going on in B.C.

"For two years, Gordon Campbell has ignored the issues that people have been facing in rural B.C. and forest communities. And now again when we see job losses coming, we see the premier saying 'Don't worry, British Columbia will get through this, everything's fine,"' she said.

"Well it's not fine for families. This is a government that has made life more difficult for British Columbians."

James told New Democrat supporters that an NDP government will put people back to work with infrastructure and green-technology investments and by revitalizing the forest industry.

Environmental groups have criticized the NDP for promising to drop the Liberal carbon tax, but James said all other jurisdictions are moving to a cap-and-trade pollution system.

A redistribution of seats means there are now six extra ridings, for a total of 85, up for grabs in an election that's largely turned the tables on predictable party lines.

Campbell's big-business, pro-development Liberals enter the campaign promoting themselves as friends of the environment and champions of aboriginal rights.

The Liberals were forced to retreat from an aboriginal reconciliation bill last month after some of the party's traditional big-business supporters revolted over the bill that would have entrenched aboriginal title.

For their part, the New Democrats have drawn fire from some of their traditional green supporters with their pledge to cut the provincial carbon tax.

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