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Chretien promotes women hopefuls

Election strategies are on the minds of Canadian politicians, including Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who is making it easier for women to become Liberal candidates.

Party members are divided over the special treatment Chretien is giving by naming some women candidates and bypassing the nomination process.

Ontario politician Elinor Caplan was one of the first four selected by Chretien, who wants 75 women among 301 Liberal candidates in the federal election expected this year.

Some overlooked candidates are considering running as independents.

Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Jean Charest says he will pursue the controversial and previously rejected proposal of "distinct society status" for mainly French-speaking Quebec as an election platform.

In Quebec, Daniel Johnson has been reaffirmed the provincial Liberal leader and wants to sell Canadians on special status for Quebec. "I sincerely believe that an increasing number of political leaders in Canada know that Quebec is different," he said.

Eaton's closing 31 stores

The financially ailing Eaton's department store chain has targeted 31 of its 85 stores for closing.

Burdened with debt, the family-owned company is attempting to restructure with court protection from creditors.

Thousands of jobs would be lost and the closings would have a major impact on downtown malls where Eaton's is the main tenant.

Stores listed to be either closed or sold include the high-profile West Edmonton Mall, Yonge-Eglinton Center in Toronto and Winnipeg downtown.

In brief

A fierce storm with snow, freezing rain, high winds and even thunder and lightning blew into Ontario on Friday, creating treacherous driving conditions and power outages before heading east. North of Montreal, a sudden snowstorm Wednesday contributed to two crashes that involved 80 cars and trucks.

Groups of hospital workers in Toronto and Ottawa held 10-minute strikes Thursday to protest the planned restructuring of health facilities by the provincial government. Spending cuts will result in the closing of 24 hospitals, including 10 in Toronto.

What's a jewelry store thief to do when there isn't any decent downtown parking? A parking ticket led police to three suspects who left a getaway car illegally parked on a University of Toronto street during a $1.7-million (Canadian) robbery at the Royal DeVersailles store.

Facts and figures

Canada's dollar regained some strength, closing Friday at 73.25 U.S. cents, while a U.S. greenback returned $1.3651 Canadian (before exchange fees).

The Bank of Canada key interest rate remains at 3.25 percent and the prime lending rate is 4.75 percent.

Stock markets were lower. The Toronto Stock Exchange 300 index was 6,197 points Friday, while Montreal was 3,106 points and Vancouver, 1,335 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 12, 16, 25, 26, 28 and 41; bonus 43. (March 8) 13, 31, 32, 40, 45 and 48; bonus 16.

From the west

Alberta's "tough-love" Premier Ralph Klein, who slashed spending and cut government jobs, was re-elected Tuesday. His Conservatives elected 63 members to the 83-seat legislature on promises to continue with fiscal restraint.

The possibility that convicted child-killer Clifford Olson might receive early parole has angered the families of his 11 victims. The families asked the British Columbia Supreme Court to repeal the law that allows early parole. Olson was sentenced in 1981 to life imprisonment with no parole for 25 years.