It started Tuesday morning, with a full-page newspaper ad from environmental and health groups, showing a row of Montreal duplexes, each with a wood stove belching smoke into the sky.
The debate over wood stoves continued that night, when the other side - an industry association - brought in an American expert who had helped draft tough U.S. guidelines to try to persuade city council to change its approach to wood burning.
"Things seem to have gotten a little out of hand in Montreal," said John Gulland, who runs the website woodheat.org.
Montreal is considering one of the strictest wood-smoke bylaws in North America. It would ban the installation of any wood-burning appliances in new construction, which the city says will improve winter air quality. There have been 45 smog days since mid-November, Environment Canada says. The previous high was 19 in 2005.
During a smog warning, people are urged to use public transit and reduce their outdoor activity.
People who use and sell wood stoves are taken aback by the strictness of the Mont-real bylaw, said John Crouch, of the U.S. Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association.
"There's a tremendous irony here," he said. "There are some great EPA-certified stoves made in Quebec. They're shipped all over this country, and into my country, and some of them are shipped all over the world. Why would Montreal not allow one to be installed here?"
Under the proposed bylaw, people could still use natural gas, electric or wood pellet stoves.
There's a better way to regulate wood stoves, Gulland said. That's by banning the sale of any wood stoves that do not meet standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, banning wood burning when there is poor air quality, and having a program to encourage people to replace their older, uncertified stoves with cleaner models.
Gulland said he would go one step further, and have "smoke cops" who could ticket people who use dirty stoves to burn their wood. "Darn right," he said. "I think it's fantastic, especially in a place like Montreal where it would appear there is a cultural inclination to burn wood."
People in the San Francisco area have just finished their first winter where it was illegal to burn wood when the air quality was poor. Violators faced fines of up to $2,000. Like Montreal, the San Francisco Bay Area, which has 1.2 million wood stoves, is trying to tackle winter smog.
Here at home, other cities are watching what happens with Montreal's bylaw.
This week, Beaconsfield council is to discuss a bylaw similar to Montreal's, Mayor Bob Benedetti said, after residents at a public meeting last week were generally in favour of it. Like Montreal, it would only apply to new construction; it wouldn't tackle the 6,900 wood-burning appliances now installed in Beaconsfield's 6,500 homes. For that, Benedetti would like to see Quebec start an exchange program.
The industry is currently running its own rebate program. Until March 31, consumers can get $300 off a new EPA-certified stove, and Natural Resources Canada will match the rebate.