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Tory promises income tax cut

Jean Charest hopes to lead his Conservative Party out of the political wilderness and back into power with a pre-election pledge to cut personal income taxes by 10 percent.

The Tory leader, in advance of a federal election expected this year, is trying to rebuild the once-mighty party from the ashes of the 1993 election. In that vote, following the era of unpopular Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Conservatives were reduced to just two elected members in Parliament.

If elected, Charest, 38, also promises to cut small business and corporate taxes, create jobs, reform the non-elected Senate and scrap gun control.

In a campaign booklet titled "Let the Future Begin" that rivals Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Red Book of promises, Charest says he will reduce unemployment insurance premiums, create 1-million jobs and balance the budget.

He also would enact a law making "elected politicians personally responsible for controlling the debt," with penalties of a pay cut for the prime minister and Cabinet ministers if they fail.

The Reform Party also promises tax cuts, but Chretien says his government has no such plans or promises. "We have to finish the job of reducing the deficit and not try to buy votes with tax cuts," he told the House of Commons.

Finance Minister Paul Martin added: "We would like to bring in tax cuts as soon as possible, but only when we are assured that health care, education and our old-age pensions are secure."

Eaton's moves up closings

The financially troubled T. Eaton Co. Ltd. will have to close or sell many of its department stores by June 30, much earlier than originally planned.

In a bid to restructure and survive, president George Eaton said the company has been forced to move quickly to dispose of the properties.

Eaton's has listed 31 stores and one warehouse in seven provinces for likely closing or sale, including major downtown outlets in London, Ontario, Winnipeg and Regina.

The 127-year-old chain with 85 stores has court protection from creditors who are owed more than $300-million (Canadian). It has lost more than $250-million since 1988 and has fared badly since the arrival of Wal-Mart Inc. in Canada three years ago.

In brief

Canada has exceeded its immigration targets. Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard said 225,313 foreigners arrived in Canada last year _ 196,998 immigrants and 28,315 refugees _ which is 5,313 more than the maximum target. Most were skilled laborers and business investors.

The governments of Quebec and British Columbia will present budgets on Tuesday, both aimed at cutting debt. Quebec Premier Lucien Bouchard plans to cut government jobs, while economists say British Columbia needs to balance its budget to re-establish financial credibility. Saskatchewan has cut its sales tax to 7 percent from 9 percent, meanwhile, and Newfoundland will cut 1,100 government jobs.

Liberal Nova Scotia Premier John Savage has resigned, saying he has "worked hard" to build a strong and vibrant province. There is speculation he will be offered a federal appointment.

Facts and figures

There was a slight increase in mortgage rates as the dollar and stock markets fell.

Responding to possible higher interest rates in the United States, banks raised the one-year mortgage rate by 0.15 percentage points to 5.2 percent and the five-year rate by 0.30 points to 7.3 percent.

This drove the dollar down to 72.5 U.S. cents while raising the U.S. dollar to $1.3793 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.

The Toronto Stock Exchange 300 index fell to 6,055 points while Montreal was 3,047 points and Vancouver, 1,307 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 12, 16, 20, 22, 26 and 38; bonus 36. (March 15) 5, 21, 29, 31, 45 and 49; bonus 41.

From the west

After torrential rains, the threat of flooding has eased across British Columbia. Sandbagging began around Vancouver Island when heavy rain caused flooding and mudslides in the Cowichan Valley, Sooke, Parksville and Qualicum areas. A mudslide blocked the Trans-Canada Highway in the Fraser Canyon.

The 11,000 Canada Safeway employees in Alberta are taking a strike vote, unhappy over a proposed five-year contract. The United Food and Commercial Workers ran newspaper ads saying workers who gave up pay and benefits previously have been "betrayed" by the company, which is training replacement workers.

Manitoba has joined British Columbia and Ontario in reporting Lyme disease; a deer tick carrying the bacteria was found on a dog in Winnipeg. Left untreated in humans, the flu-like illness can become a chronic debilitating condition.