The great Daylight Saving Time debate

At 2 a.m. on November 5, clocks in most of Canada will “fall back” one hour, ending daylight saving time for the year. (The Active Times)

Daylight savings time. To some people it means losing an hour of sleep. To others, it means being an hour closer to breakfast.

It’s one hour out of 8,700 in a year, but each year it is the source of days, weeks and months of debate.

On Oct. 30, after months spent arguing for and against the twice-a-year time adjustment, Alberta MLAs voted to scrap a private member’s bill that would have seen the province abolish daylight savings time.

This after nearly 13,600 Albertans voted to pass Bill 203 and either switch to central time and align with Saskatchewan – keeping their extra hour of daylight – or stay on mountain standard time year-round.

Why is the custom of shifting clocks ahead by an hour each spring and back by an hour each fall steeped in so much controversy?

A look at different movements to abolish it and the advocates on either side should offer some insight.

Team “change it”

Consistent use of daylight saving time was introduced in North America during the Second World War in order to boost productivity. After the war, though, people enjoyed the extra hour of sunlight so much they fought to keep it.

The eventual result was the twice-annual changing of the clocks that North Americans observe now.

A bill introduced by Thomas Dang, MLA for Edmonton-South West, last spring proposed to essentially keep clocks in Alberta sprung-forward, rather than setting them back one hour in November, only to push them ahead an hour the following spring.

The bill would keep Albertans in UTC-6 time, giving them an extra hour of daylight year-round.

Dang said he believed keeping the province in one time zone would eliminate the groggy March morning people suffer through each year after the clocks jump forward, leapfrogging over an hour of sleep. 

“What I’ve heard in my office, through our consultation, and from Albertans across the province is that we want one timezone to provide stability for families,” Dang said in a media release discussing the bill, “and to make life better for all Albertans.”

He argued that introducing an Alberta standard time would benefit parents of young children trying to manage morning and night routines year-round, seniors who take time-sensitive medication, egg and dairy farmers whose operations are dependent on routine, and shift workers like lab techs and mail carriers.

He said he’d received support from small businesses hoping to capitalize on the extra hour of sunlight year-round, like golf courses and restaurants with patios.

“The Alberta Standard Time Act reflects all of this,” he said. “It is one time, designed by Albertans, for Albertans.”

State legislators in Maine and Massachusetts are in the same camp as Dang and are looking into a potential switch from Eastern Time to Atlantic Time. Again, the change would equate to holding on to the extra hour of daylight all year, rather than setting clocks back in November.

One member of a U.S. panel weighing-in on the switch, public health advocate Tom Emswiler, referenced a medical study linking daylight savings time with heart attacks in a Boston Globe opinion piece.

The New England Journal of Medicine study, titled Shifts to and from Daylight Saving Time and Incidence of Myocardial Infarction, found that people were at a significantly higher risk of heart attacks in the three days following the spring shift.

“The most plausible explanation for our findings is the adverse effect of sleep deprivation on cardiovascular health,” the study’s abstract said.

Some parts of Canada, like Saskatchewan and pockets of Ontario and B.C., have already done away with daylight saving time, though most Canadians continue to move their clocks ahead by one hour each March and back by one hour each November.

Team “keep it”

The arguments against abandoning the annual switch to daylight savings time mostly revolve around the possibility that legislators might choose to permanently set clocks back an hour instead of ahead.

In the case of Alberta, WestJet Airlines came out as a strong opponent to the end of daylight saving time. The airline argued the change would push early morning flight departures from Vancouver to Alberta airports even earlier, forcing them to leave at 5 a.m. rather than 6 a.m.

The Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames would also be affected by the change, with games in the coming season starting at 9:30 p.m. and ending close to midnight.

But possibly the most ruthless opponents of the change voiced their opinions on social media.

In response to Dang’s initial post about the bill on his public Facebook page, user George Terreris wrote, “Is this really what constitutes an issue in Alberta? Don’t you have bigger fish to fry, like diversifying your economy?”

George Petkus, another Albertan, wrote, “I see no real reason to change our time system! Are we too lazy to change our clocks twice a year now??”

Ultimately, the standing committee on Alberta’s economic future voted unanimously to scrap the private member’s bill on Sept. 19, and the Alberta government followed suit on Oct. 30.