How Canadian time zones will work if B.C. stops changing clocks twice a year

The government in B.C. is taking a concrete step toward scrapping the practice of changing clocks twice a year for daylight time in the province.

The attorney general is set to introduce enabling legislation Thursday, which paves the way for government to make the move sometime in the future. So, what would happen across the country, time-zone wise, if B.C. sticks to one time year-round while other provinces and territories keep switching?

The National Research Council Canada, the organization which sets and maintains the country's official time, provided a breakdown.

If British Columbia makes daylight time permanent, the council said, the province would be choosing to stay on the UTC-7 time zone all year as opposed to switching between UTC-7 in the summer and UTC-8 in the winter — the province wouldn't "fall" back an hour each November while most of the country still would.

UTC, or co-ordinated universal time, is the worldwide 24-hour standard for time and, combined with the Earth's rotation, is maintained using precise atomic clocks.

With daylight time permanent, B.C. summers would have the same time differences we've known for decades:

  • Three hours behind Ontario.
  • One hour behind Alberta.
  • One hour ahead of Alaska.
  • On the same time as Yukon and Washington state.

In the winter, on the other hand, B.C. would be:

  • Two hours behind Ontario.
  • On the same time as Alberta.
  • Two hours ahead of Alaska. 
  • One hour ahead of Yukon and Washington state.

The change would not affect B.C.'s Peace Region or the Kootenay town of Creston, which have never changed clocks for daylight time. It would also not affect the East Kootenay region, which is currently aligned with the time in Alberta.

If the province makes daylight time permanent, sunrise would be later in the winter in B.C. It could stay dark until as late as 9 a.m. PT in Vancouver and 9:30 a.m. in communities further north, like Prince George. 

Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

What about Saskatchewan?

Saskatchewan is an anomaly.

The time difference between B.C. and Saskatchewan would be fixed year-round if B.C. stopped using standard time because, although located in the Mountain Time Zone, most of Saskatchewan observes central standard time year round.

B.C. would always be one hour behind Saskatchewan.

How about the Yukon or Washington state?

The new time could throw British Columbia out of whack during the winter with the rest of the Pacific Time Zone, including Yukon and Washington state — its immediate neighbours to the north and south.

"[British Columbia] would perhaps need to consider using an alternate name for their time zone to avoid confusion with the rest of the Pacific Time Zone, where summer and winter time would continue to shift between springing forward and falling back," read an email from the NRCC.

Thursday's legislation will create a new name for the permanent time zone: pacific time. 

The legislation, called the Interpretation Amendment Act, would work by removing an existing law that currently allows the twice-yearly time change. 

Maggie MacPherson/CBC

B.C. Premier John Horgan has previously said B.C. would stick to its time-changing ways because the province needs to match the time in neighbouring jurisdictions. More than half of respondents to a government survey this year agreed, saying it was "important" or "very important" B.C. be aligned with its neighbours when it comes to keeping time.

In September, the province said more than 93 per cent of British Columbians who responded to the same survey said they wanted to do away with changing clocks twice a year and make daylight time permanent.

Three-quarters said health concerns were the driving reasons behind their support for scrapping the clock change. More than half noted the benefits of extra daylight during their evening commutes in winter, while 39 per cent mentioned other safety concerns in their responses.

Alberta saw similar, overwhelming public support for the idea in 2017, but legislators in that province shot down proposed laws that would have ended daylight time after an all-party committee said the impact on business would be too onerous.