03/20/2015 01:34 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT

NDP Seeks Emergency Debate As Arctic Sea Ice Hits Record Low

OTTAWA - The federal New Democrats say there should be an emergency debate in Parliament on the implications of a new low in Arctic sea ice.

Thursday's confirmation by a monitoring agency that the extent of this winter's sea ice is the lowest on record has policy implications from defence to environment to the livelihoods of northerners, said NDP environment critic Megan Leslie.

"This is an actual emergency," she said Friday.

"With the sea ice level changes, we're seeing unprecedented threats to the livelihoods and the lives of northern people, to our economy, to our security. If we can't carve out a few hours of parliamentary debate and discussions of our options, I don't think we're being served very well by this government."

On Thursday, the U.S.-based National Snow and Ice Data Center said the maximum reach of this year's ice is more than a million square kilometres below the 30-year average, a difference of about seven per cent. It's also about one per cent below the previous winter record low set in 2011.

Leslie said she was planning to file a letter Monday to House Speaker Andrew Scheer. He will rule on the request after Leslie has a chance to speak to it later that day.

There is no debate on such requests.

Comment from the government was not immediately available.

Leslie said her party has repeatedly tried to get the governing Conservatives to address issues raised by shrinking sea ice. The NDP last requested an emergency debate in 2012, after a record was set for the amount of summer melt.

That request was denied. Scheer ruled the debate would be better held in other settings such as committee hearings.

But the Tory-dominated environment committee has studiously avoided any such discussions, Leslie said.

"The Conservatives tell us what we're going to study," she said.

"We're trying to fight so hard to get something useful studied at committee. And what we're studying right now is hunting and trapping."

Leslie suggested that, in addition to environment, the defence and natural resources departments are heavily affected by melting sea ice and other facets of climate change.

"I think there's a lot of information that we need."

If Leslie's request for a debate is granted, the House would set aside its regularly scheduled business.

Emergency debates are highly restricted under House rules. They are reserved for issues that can't be aired elsewhere and are of concern across the nation, although the Speaker has considerable discretion in granting one.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960.

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