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Disaster team aids in Sri Lanka relief effort

Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team has been sent to tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka with equipment and expertise to aid survivors.

The 200 military engineers, doctors and communications experts will provide medical care and clean water, and help with reconstruction.

A huge Antonov jet chartered from Russia carried tons of cargo including hundreds of pallets of bottled water, transport vehicles, medical supplies and equipment. The team was last deployed in 1999 to aid earthquake victims in Turkey.

It is setting up this weekend in Ampara on the hard-hit southeast coast where more than 10,000 people died and 150,000 were left homeless.

Supplying purified water to hospitals is the first priority. Four massive purification units will be installed to produce 50,000 gallons of water a day.

Canada has given $80-million for immediate relief and recovery efforts, and the government will match private donations. It is also "fast-tracking" immigration procedures for relatives and others wanting to relocate to Canada from the affected areas.

Five Canadians are officially listed as dead, 146 are missing and there are concerns about some 400 others.

McKenna said to become ambassador to U.S.

Frank McKenna, often touted as a future federal Liberal leader, is expected to become Canada's ambassador to the United States.

The former New Brunswick premier, 56, is said to have accepted an offer by Prime Minister Paul Martin for him to assume the most important diplomatic post in Canada's foreign service.

"I think that Frank McKenna is a Canadian who has great qualities," Martin said. "If he decides that he wants to serve his country, then I'm sure we would all benefit from it."

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley turned down the job now held by Michael Kergin.

News in brief

+ Louis J. Robichaud, a former premier and senator, and called the architect of modern New Brunswick, has died after a battle with cancer. The small-town Acadian lawyer, who was 79, transformed the province into a thriving bilingual and bicultural society. Premier from 1960 to 1970 and senator from 1973 to 2000, Robichaud died near Saint-Antoine, where he was born.

+ The headlines said people in the rest of Canada were somewhat amused to watch normally snowless Vancouverites cope with the weather. While Vancouver has 35 snowplows _ which are often not needed _ compared with 400 for Toronto, the city almost ground to a standstill Thursday. That's when the British Columbia Lower Mainland and Victoria had up to 10 inches of snow.

Facts and figures

A steady rise in full-time work helped drop Canada's jobless rate to 7 percent last month, the lowest in three years.

The drop gave Canada's dollar a boost Friday to 81.22 U.S. cents, but it was still down 2.5 U.S. cents from earlier in the week. The U.S. greenback is valued at $1.2312 Canadian before bank exchange fees.

The lower jobless rate isn't enough to cause the Bank of Canada to raise interest rates now, analysts said. The central bank rate remains 2.5 percent, while the prime lending rate is 4.25 percent.

Canadian stock markets are lower, with Toronto's composite index 8,996 points and the Canadian Venture Exchange 1,773 points.

Lotto 6-49: (Wednesday) 1, 2, 30, 36, 42 and 43; bonus 23. (Jan. 1) 10, 16, 17, 34, 40 and 47; bonus 41.

Regional briefs

+ Popular Alberta Lt. Gov. Lois Hole, the appointed representative of Queen Elizabeth II, has died. Hole, who was in her 70s and was battling cancer, died in Edmonton. Before entering political life, the gardening guru, philanthropist and education advocate ran a greenhouse business with her husband, Ted, who died last year of cancer.

+ Manitoba's sweeping antismoking law faces a constitutional challenge that could shape how other provinces enact their own crackdowns on tobacco. Attorney Art Stacey, who represents a ticketed bar owner, said the law is outside provincial jurisdiction and violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It bans smoking in all enclosed public places.

Jim Fox can be reached at