Alberta debates ending twice-yearly time changes

Albertans are reconsidering the twice-yearly ritual of springing ahead and falling back. Surveys show public support for ending time changes, but businesses worry the move would put the province out of sync with the rest of North America.

Surveys indicate public support for the move but some businesses prefer current system

A technician changes the time on large clocks. Alberta is considering ending the twice-yearly ritual of springing ahead and falling back. ( Charlie Riedel/Associated Press)

The ritual of springing ahead and falling back has sparked a debate in Alberta over whether changing time twice a year is necessary, healthy or good for business.

A private member's bill introduced by a government MLA that would rid Alberta of shifting standard and daylight time has created a division in the province. Three-quarters of people answering an online questionnaire support the move, while businesses, particularly aviation and professional sports, vehemently object.

On one side, Alberta's major airports and WestJet, as well as the hockey Flames and Oilers are urging a committee of the legislature that is studying the bill to reject it.

On social media the shift has been described by some as an NDP government plot against business. "Socialists want to destroy Alberta business and way of life. Leave DST alone," wrote one man on Twitter. 

But surveys show strong support for eliminating the two-time system.

The government survey conducted over the spring and summer received 13,000 responses, with about 10,000 of them urging Alberta to eliminate the tradition of turning the clocks ahead one hour in March and back in November.

The debate began in the darkest days of winter when Alberta's youngest MLA, 21-year-old Thomas Dang, began his political assault to end "this really dated practice."
Alberta MLA Thomas Dang wants to eliminate the 'dated practice' of changing from standard to daylight time, and back again. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

"I know most Albertans want us to get off of the change," he told CBC News in a mid-December interview. "I know they want us to keep one time all year round."

Among other problems, switching time disrupts family life, especially for schoolchildren, and farm activities such as caring for cattle, Dang argues.

Dang, it seems, didn't waste an hour after that. In February he tested the waters with his own online survey and found resounding support. Then, just days after Albertans dutifully moved their clocks forward in March, Dang introduced the Alberta Standard Time Act.

The changes would leave Alberta on Mountain daylight time year round, though the time zone would be renamed Alberta Standard Time.

In the winter, that would put the province two hours ahead of British Columbia and one hour behind Ontario. In summer, it would be one hour ahead of B.C. and two hours behind Ontario.

But it would align Alberta with the one province that has held out on imposing daylight saving time for more than 50 years: Saskatchewan. Since 1966, that province has eschewed changing its clocks, staying permanently locked on central standard time. So when the rest of North America shifts in spring and fall, Saskatchewan remains the same —sharing the same time zone as Manitoba in winter and Alberta in summer.

A brief history of daylight time

Daylight time was introduced during the First World War to conserve energy. The reasoning went that rousting people from their beds an hour earlier in the summer months would put them more in sync with the solar cycle, and thus they wouldn't need to turn the lights on as often.

Canadian cities were first to sign on in 1918, when Winnipeg, Montreal, Halifax and a few other centres adopted the time change.

But the provinces are responsible for all matters of time, and since the 1960s most have moved in lockstep with U.S. states to avoid disruptions in business. While the vast majority of North American jurisdictions observe daylight time in spring and summer, Dang's bill has given voice to a rising chorus calling for an end to the twice-yearly disruption of schedules.

What the research shows

We often hear about groggy students and crashing cars in the days after the spring time change. And there is legitimate research to back that up. Unfortunately there's not a lot of it, and some dates back decades.
Edmonton Oilers centre Connor McDavid (97) takes a shot on goal on May 10 against the Anaheim Ducks in Anaheim. The Oilers say a proposed change in Alberta's time system would hurt their business. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Stanley Coren, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia, showed a clear link between daylight time and motor vehicle collisions in a 1996 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He looked at two years of Canadian accident statistics and concluded there is a slight increase in crashes in the week after daylight time begins in spring, and a more moderate reduction when clocks are turned back in the fall.

A more recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine supports the notion that the spring time change affects teenagers' learning abilities.

Researchers equipped 35 teenagers with devices to measure their sleep, and tested their cognitive skills and their sleepiness during the day. They found that on weeknights following the time change students lost a cumulative total of two hours 42 minutes. As a result their test scores dropped, they were groggy during the day and had trouble concentrating.

But as for overall health consequences, there's no proof that daylight time is making us sick.

Researchers at Cornell University reviewed data from 3.4 million surveys collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and 160 million hospital admission records from Germany. They found we are no more sick in the days after losing that hour of sleep than we were before. However, after gaining an hour in the fall people have a little more vigour than usual.

WestJet opposes change

Calgary-based WestJet says failing to stick with the rest of the continent on time changes will jeopardize its growth and Calgary's role as a significant aviation hub.
A WestJet plane passes over snow-covered mountains on its way from Vancouver to Calgary. The airline says ending seasonal time changes would make some travellers bypass Alberta. (Reuters)

WestJet vice-president Brian Znotins told the legislature committee Calgary-bound flights would have to leave Vancouver at 5 a.m. during the winter to compensate for the time difference.

"Five a.m. flights aren't particularly appealing to most travellers," he said, adding "most will choose alternative routes that bypass Alberta."

"Aviation and airline schedules and logistics are very complex and very sensitive," explains Edmonton International Airport's Traci Bednard.

She points out that 15,000 Edmonton flights a year connect with airports on the West Coast. "So all of those 15,000 flights and the many more thousands of passengers on those flights would be impacted by this time change."

Late games irk Oilers, Flames

The NHL's Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames say the proposal would cause even later starts for some of their home games, in some cases having the puck drop at 9:30 p.m. and games ending near midnight.

"This would hurt both our television broadcast numbers and home attendance," Oilers Entertainment Group warned in a brief to the committee.

"The legislation will have a negative impact and simply make it more difficult for fans of hockey to access the game," the Oilers presentation concludes.

Government will decide

It's unusual for a private member's bill to gain traction with the public, but Dang seems to have struck a chord. The committee studying it will report back to the Alberta Legislature on Oct. 4, and the government will decide where to take it from there.

Meantime, Dang would like to extend the discussion to other provinces. "If this was a conversation that went further, I think it would be something very exciting to see more people possibly see these benefits."

The passions around eliminating the time change were cultivated in the winter and spring, a time when people are a little more cranky about losing an hour of sleep

Whether it will still be top of mind this fall, when people are basking in the warm thoughts of an extra hour in November, only time will tell.


Terry Reith

Network News Producer

Terry Reith is CBC's network news producer based in Edmonton. He's also served as the network's medical reporter, and senior writer for the consumer section of cbc.ca. Reith joined the CBC in 1992 as a local radio and television reporter.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian