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Prentice attacks Quebec's climate strategy

Quebec's new environmental regulations targeting vehicles are an "absolutely counter-productive and utterly pointless" way to cut greenhouse-gas emissions that will ultimately put Canada at a competitive disadvantage in the North American marketplace, the federal Environment Minister said Monday.

Speaking in Calgary, Jim Prentice defended Canada's climate-change strategy announced over the weekend, which follows the lead of the United States to cut emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

Ottawa's previous target was a 20-per-cent reduction over 2006 levels.

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Meanwhile, Mr. Prentice called the new Quebec Environmental Quality Act "one of the most glaring examples of the folly of attempting to go it alone" on climate change.

The legislation, which came into effect last month, states that as of 2016, large auto manufacturers will face a fine of up to $5,000 for every vehicle they sell that doesn't meet new emissions standards, beginning with 2010 model-year vehicles.

"These ensure that consumers will basically have to leave that province to buy their vehicles to avoid levies of up to $5,000 per vehicle because 75 per cent of the latest car and truck models don't conform to the new rules," Mr. Prentice told a business crowd at an event hosted by the University of Calgary.

The auto industry also criticized the regulations and described Quebec as "out of step" with the rest of North America.

But a spokesman for Quebec Environment Minister Line Beauchamp said critics like Mr. Prentice are misinformed. Dave Leclerc said consumers will not pay a $5,000 levy on vehicles. He said that number is a benchmark that will be used to determine the levy charged to manufacturers, depending on how much they exceed the province's standard. For instance, if a car maker exceeds the limit by 1 per cent, it will be charged 1 per cent of $5,000, or $50 per vehicle.

The federal minister's comments are more evidence of a growing rift between Ottawa and Quebec on the issue - as well as others with distinct climate-change plans.

Bloc Québécois environment critic Bernard Bigras said Quebec's position is similar to the one adopted by 15 U.S. states representing 40 per cent of the U.S market.

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"Quebec isn't alone. Ontario also wants to move ahead on this issue but Ottawa is retreating. We appear to be on a collision course here," he said.

During global climate-change talks in Copenhagen in December, Quebec Premier Jean Charest described the expanding gap in targets set by the federal government and other provinces as a "tale of two Canadas." He was determined to move ahead with a made-in-Quebec strategy.

Then, last month, he shared a platform with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to announce the construction of an organic waste treatment plant in Quebec, but took the opportunity to slam Ottawa's targets while insisting that Quebec will pursue an aggressive strategy against climate change.

On Monday Mr. Prentice said the government will wait to see what the U.S. does next before deciding whether to adopt a cap-and-trade regime or regulations. He said it is unclear how individual sectors such as the energy industry, including the contentious oil sands, will be affected.

Federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has said Canada should not wait for Washington to act on climate change.

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About the Authors
Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

Quebec City political correspondent

Rhéal Séguin is a journalist and political scientist. Born and educated in southern Ontario, he completed his undergraduate degree in political science at York University and a master's degree in political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal.Rhéal has practised journalism since 1978, first with Radio-Canada in radio and television and then with CBC Radio. More

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