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Is time running out on changing clocks twice a year? U.S. Sunshine Protection Act may hold key

Is time running out on changing clocks twice a year? U.S. Sunshine Protection Act may hold key

Last March, after a surprising unanimous vote in the U.S. Senate chamber, it seemed that time may have run out on the age-old practice of changing clocks twice a year.

The problem, however, was that some senators weren't exactly aware of the ramifications of their unanimous vote to make daylight time permanent.

That means that similar legislation, reintroduced last week, may not fly through the Senate as easily this time around. And it raised questions as to whether there might be a bright future for Canadians who support keeping daylight time all year.

"Personally, I'm more negative than I was last year," said Thomas Gray, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Texas at Dallas. "It passed the Senate last year, but it definitely passed because people weren't paying attention."

U.S. bill stalled, expired, reintroduced

This Saturday, most Canadians and Americans will be setting their clocks ahead an hour as part of daylight saving time, meaning darker mornings, but more sunlight in the evenings. In the fall, clocks are moved back an hour, reverting to standard time.

However, some lawmakers in the U.S. are trying to end the biannual routine and establish daylight time throughout the year.

The Senate approved the proposed bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, through a procedure known as unanimous consent, meaning it was passed through voice vote only, bypassing the normal debate time and vote count.

But the proposed bill had stalled for months in the House Energy and Commerce committee. It later expired at the end of the last session of Congress.

AP
AP

Last week, one of the sponsors and leading crusader of the bill, Republican Florida Senator Marco Rubio, reintroduced the proposed legislation in the Senate.

"This ritual of changing time twice a year is stupid," Rubio said in a statement. "Locking the clock has overwhelming bipartisan and popular support. This Congress, I hope that we can finally get this done."

Provinces cite need for consistency with states

The future of the bill will be closely watched by Canadians seeking to make daylight time the norm. Some provinces have been promising for years to ditch the time change, but have cited a need for consistency with U.S. states for the delays.

"We are waiting for what's happening in the United States because there is a great benefit to alignment, especially for key provinces that have trade at stake," said University of British Columbia (UBC) business professor Werner Antweiler, who has followed the issue.

WATCH | B.C. Premier explains why permanent move to daylight time on hold: 

British Columbia Premier David Eby said the province's position of wanting to end the biannual time switch and remain "in-sync" with West Coast American states hasn't changed

In B.C., legislation was passed four years ago to allow the province to permanently stay on daylight time. But then-premier John Horgan said the change would depend on Washington, Oregon and California doing the same.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford has said a switch would require New York state to also ditch the time change, while Quebec Premier François Legault has said he is open to making daylight time permanent.

Supporters of year-round daylight time say it would would enable children to play outdoors later, reduce car crashes, seasonal depression and crime.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Medical community supports standard time

Some in the medical community also oppose the twice a year time switch, concerned that springing forward comes with increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. But they advocate for keeping standard time all year because they say darker mornings are not in sync with the body's natural circadian rhythms.

Some states have introduced legislation to end the changing of clocks, with some states proposing to do it only if neighbouring states do the same. And as the Washington Post reported, at least 19 states in recent years have enacted laws or passed resolutions that would allow them to impose year-round daylight time.

The issue is a rare one in D.C. in that it's not specific to just one party — there are Republican and Democratic supporters and opponents.

"It's somewhat of a regional issue," said Gray, the political science professor, who was working in D.C. last March as a congressional fellow and was there during the vote.

He said many senators were shocked when the bill passed the Senate and some thought they were voting on something "totally innocuous."

WATCH | Where are we at on ditching time changes in Canada?

The senators, he said, were asked by media outlets why they voted as they did. "And then they answer 'I did what now? What did I do?' "

Sen. John Thune, for example, whose job it was to count votes as a minority whip, learned the legislation had passed from reporters, the Washington Post reported at the time.

"Whose bill is it?" Thune asked. "It passed?"

Majority whip Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), also learned from the media that the legislation had passed to make the spring forward permanent. "Made what permanent?" he asked.

Gray believes the vote may have inspired those opposed to the bill to take action and be less complacent. Now, he says, both sides are fighting vigorously about the issue. "Which, to me, lowers the chance that it ultimately succeeds."

LISTEN | How to prepare your sleep schedule to spring forward: 

But Antweiler, the UBC business professor, is more optimistic, largely because the House is now run by Republicans, so the bill introduced by one of their own will be easier to pass.

"The last House was run by Nancy Pelosi, and she didn't really have much time for focusing on an agenda that wasn't close to theirs," he said.

"And even though [the bill] was bipartisan, it basically got stuck in a committee. It wasn't moved forward for what appeared to be political considerations."