MONTREAL - The Quebec government hit back at Ottawa on Tuesday after the federal environment minister called the province's new vehicular emission standards a "folly."
Quebec Environment Minister Line Beauchamp accused her federal counterpart, Jim Prentice, of parroting the auto industry's line against regulations limiting vehicle emissions.
"He's endorsing arguments advanced by automobile manufacturers, and that discourages me," she told The Canadian Press.
Last month Quebec adopted legislation that, starting in 2016, will impose fines up to $5,000 on large auto manufacturers for every vehicle they sell that fails to comply with new emission standards.
During a speech in Calgary on Monday, Prentice attacked the regulations for being out-of-step with economic realities.
"One of the most glaring examples of the folly of attempting to go it alone in an integrated North American economy is the new, and unique, vehicle regulations introduced by Quebec," he said.
"These ensure that consumers will basically have to leave that province to buy their vehicles, to avoid levies of up to $5,000, because 75 per cent of the latest car and truck models don't conform to the new rules."
But Beauchamp said the province is far from alone in adopting tough emission standards for vehicles, pointing out that 15 U.S. states, including New York and California, have already adopted similar regulations.
"All together, we represent 40 per cent of the market for new vehicle sales in North America," she said.
Beauchamp also accused Prentice of sowing misinformation about Quebec's plan by repeating fears expressed by the auto industry.
She said the emissions will be averaged, giving manufacturers a chance to reduce their exposure to fines by selling more compact vehicles.
"One shouldn't encourage worry and uncertainty when there shouldn't be any," she said. "It is a regulation largely applied in North America by the principal American states, and we already announced our intention to go ahead as soon as California was ready to move."
The dispute over Quebec's vehicle emission standards is only the latest in a series of conflagrations between the two governments over differences in environmental policies.
In December, Premier Jean Charest travelled to the Copenhagen climate summit, where he warned the federal government that Quebec would not sit idly by if Ottawa failed to set more ambitious targets for reducing emissions.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper charged Charest was wrong to air a domestic dispute on the international stage.
At a spending announcement in Quebec last month, Charest refused to back down from his comments, even though Harper was standing next to him.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe joined Beauchamp in accusing the Conservative government of putting the interests of the oil and automobile industries before those of Quebec.
"If their strategy doesn't respect the fundamental interests of Quebec, Quebecers will remember," he said in Ottawa.