Albertans will vote in a referendum next week about whether to switch to permanent daylight time – joining a growing list of jurisdictions in Canada and the United States that have moved to ditch twice-yearly time changes even as experts warn that the province’s approach would harm people’s health.
There has been an increasing push in recent years to stop forcing people to change their clocks twice a year, which has been linked to car accidents, lower productivity and higher risks for a range of health conditions, including heart attacks and strokes, particularly in the spring. As governments consider following that advice, they’ve had to decide whether to stick to standard time or daylight time.
Across North America, permanent daylight time has become the preferred option, rather than standard time. The Yukon made the change last year, while B.C., Ontario and dozens of American states have passed laws preparing for such a change but haven’t yet implemented it. If the Alberta referendum passes next Monday, the province could switch to permanent daylight time as early as next year.
Medical experts and groups such as the Canadian Sleep Society and the Canadian Society for Chronobiology have argued that adopting daylight time year-round is the worst of all possible options. They say that’s especially true in Alberta, where the province’s location within the Mountain Time zone and a population that lives farther north than in most other places in Canada would mean that in the depth of winter the sun wouldn’t rise in some communities until as late as 10:30 a.m.
Michael Antle, a psychology professor at the University of Calgary who studies circadian rhythms, said most medical experts advocate for ending the clock changes and switching to standard time.
“It’s more natural,” he said in an interview. “Our body is going to follow the sun. Standard time aligns our social clock with our internal biological clock, so that there’s less of a mismatch. That’s where the health benefits come from.”
Dr. Antle said the ideal time zone puts 12 p.m. as close to solar noon – when the sun is at its highest point in the sky – as possible. Shifting the time of day by an hour isn’t a big problem in the summer because daylight lasts for so long, but in the winter, the relatively short days mean our bodies would struggle if the sun rises an hour later.
The problem is worse in Alberta because much of the province is farther west than other places in the Mountain Time zone, Dr. Antle said.
Proponents of permanent daylight time argue that many people would prefer an extra hour of sunlight in the evening. Provincial governments have generally favoured daylight time, rather than standard time, because that’s become the default proposal in the United States.
In Canada, the governments in British Columbia and Ontario said they would wait until a critical mass of neighbouring jurisdictions were prepared to make the change at the same time, while in the U.S., states cannot make the change without the approval of Congress, which has yet to happen. Saskatchewan (with the exception of Lloydminster) does not change its clocks; the province was on Mountain Time decades ago but switched to Central Time in the 1960s, effectively putting the province on permanent daylight time.
Alberta’s time referendum is binding, though Premier Jason Kenney has recently suggested the province could hold off until neighbouring jurisdictions make the same change.
He defended the referendum question, saying it was the result of “extensive consultations.” The provincial government has yet to release the results of those consultations, other than to say that a government survey found 91 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to stay on daylight time rather than continuing to change their clocks twice a year.
“We are very carefully proposing an approach that would align us with our surrounding jurisdictions,” Mr. Kenney said at a recent news conference.
Joseph De Koninck, who studies sleep at the University of Ottawa’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, said the science is clear that maintaining standard time is the best option for people’s health, particularly in northern countries such as Canada.
Dr. De Koninck said it doesn’t make sense for provincial governments to align themselves with places such as California and Florida, which are much farther south and where the impact of switching to daylight time is less acute.
“Daylight saving is a problem and it’s more of a problem in Canada,” he said.
The time change question is among several on the ballot alongside Alberta’s municipal elections next Monday. There is also a referendum on the federal equalization program and, in Calgary, a plebiscite about adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water.
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