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Heir wants to lead Conservative Party

Auto parts heir Belinda Stronach has abandoned her $12-million day job to contest the leadership of the new Conservative Party of Canada.

The former head of Magna International, founded by her father, Frank, said this is "not merely about offering Canadians a new option; we want to form a new government."

The party was formed by the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance to challenge the ruling Liberal government in an election expected this year.

Calling herself a "moderate" conservative, Stronach, 37, a single mother of two from the Toronto area, said she would use her business skills to make Canada more competitive internationally.

Also contesting the leadership next month are former Alliance leader Stephen Harper, Tony Clement, an Alliance founder and former Ontario health minister, and former Saskatchewan Premier Grant Devine.

Stronach said she supported the U.S.-led war on Iraq and would foster closer relations with the United States in order to establish a North American security perimeter.

She said she would also scrap the federal gun registry, rebuild the military and allow income tax deductions of tuition and mortgage interest.

Mayors challenge Martin

to keep his promises

Mayors of Canada's 10 largest cities are calling on Prime Minister Paul Martin to keep his promises of support.

"We need something that would give municipal governments a source of sustainable and predictable revenue," said Pat Vanini of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.

At a two-day meeting, the mayors also said they want Martin to follow through on a vow to give some gasoline tax revenues to cities.

News in brief

+ Military officials are trying to find veterans subjected to chemical warfare tests more than 50 years ago in Alberta to offer them disability pensions. A class-action lawsuit is being planned on behalf of vets who endured poisonous mustard gas trials during World War II.

+ Canada has joined other G-8 nations in wiping out most of the debt owed by Iraq. Martin said forgiving the debts, $750-million of which is owed to Canada, shows the nations can overcome disagreements over the invasion of Iraq last year. Erasing the debt will put Iraq on a better foundation, he said.

+ CN Rail has reached tentative agreements with three locals of the Canadian Auto Workers union, averting a national strike. The three-year deals cover 5,000 shopcraft, clerical and intermodal yard employees. Main issues were wages, pensions and shift-work schedules.

Facts and figures

The prospect of further interest rate cuts drove the Canadian dollar lower Friday to 75.97 cents U.S. The U.S. greenback returns $1.3163 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

Analysts believe the Bank of Canada will cut an additional quarter-point from its key rate March 2. The rate fell to 2.5 percent Tuesday while the prime lending rate was lowered to 4.25 percent.

The cut was to help slow the rise of the dollar _ up 23 percent from last year _ which is hurting Canadian exports.

Canadian stock markets were higher, with Toronto's composite index at 8,634 and the Canadian Venture Exchange at 1,806 points on Friday.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 7, 26, 40, 43 and 45; bonus 46. (Jan. 17) 2, 12, 25, 40, 41 and 47; bonus 14.

Regional briefs

+ Transport Canada has suspended the license of Georgian Express of Mississauga, Ontario, after one of its airplanes crashed into Lake Erie recently, killing 10 people. The Cessna 208B Caravan slammed into the icy lake near Pelee Island.

+ Nova Scotia wants to have Hurricane Juan financial assistance applications from the fishery and agriculture sectors completed by the middle of next month. About 700 applications have come from farmers, fishermen and small businesses, with half processed for $1.35-million.

+ Doctors are warning the Saskatchewan government that patients are dying in emergency rooms because of chronic understaffing. Dr. Jon Witt of Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon said resources are spread too thinly and patient care is suffering.

+ Gordon Hogg, British Columbia's minister of children and families, resigned Friday. A special prosecutor has been appointed to look into business practices at a car dealership once run by the head of a government agency within Hogg's ministry.