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New Democrat leader Carole James takes her campaign into Kootenays

New Democrat Leader Carole James took her campaign into the Kootenays on Friday, a region that's been hit hard by the downturn in the forest industry.

James was met in Grand Forks, B.C., by a cheering group wearing "Steelworkers for Carole James'' t-shirts.

The forest workers -- some who are working and others who've been laid off -- said they have never been through such a difficult downturn.

Local Steelworkers Union president Bruce Gardner said the workers feel they were abandoned by the B.C. Liberals, who had other priorities that did not include the forest industry.

"Olympics, the B.C. Place roof all come before forestry,'' he said.

James told the workers she's "spent too much time in the past few years travelling to mill closures.''

Grand Forks, is located near the U.S. border about 500 kilometres east of Vancouver, in the new Boundary-Similkameen riding.

It's one of six extra ridings up for grabs in the May 12 election, bringing the total number of seats in the legislature to 85 seats.

The Grand Forks region has been New Democrat territory, and Gardner said the entire area has been hard hit by the industry downturn, so he expects the new riding to remain with the NDP.

The riding is also one of 24 where the fledgling B.C. Conservative party is running a candidate, which could lead to vote-splitting with the Liberals on the right of the political spectrum that could benefit the New Democrats.

The B.C. Conservative candidate in Boundary-Similkameen is Joe Cordaso, who originally tried to run for the Liberals but was dumped when an old letter he'd written to a newspaper criticizing early Campbell government cuts surfaced.

James was also slated to stop in Nelson, where popular New Democrat Corky Evans is not seeking re-election.

The riding was one of 34 held by the New Democrats when the election call came.

British Columbians go to the polls on May 12.

Campbell was in Vancouver on Friday, where he put the campaigning on hold in order to address the B.C. public about rising fears over the swine flu.

Campbell appeared at a daily briefing by the BC Centre for Disease Control to say that health officials in this province are well-prepared to deal with a flu pandemic.

"People are right to be concerned about this influenza. People are right to be diligent,'' he said, reminding the public of their role in stemming the spread of the virus.

"The WHO has been warning for a long time that it has never been a question of if we would have this occur -- it was really a question of when.''

Dirk Meissner reports for The Canadian Press.

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