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editorial

In 1895, at a meeting of the Wellington Philosophical Society in New Zealand, entomologist George Hudson proposed an idea: “seasonal time-adjustment,” or altering the time on the clock at the spring and autumn equinoxes to better utilize morning daylight and reduce the “excessive use of artificial light.”

Mr. Hudson’s peers were not impressed. “The mere calling the hours different would not make any difference in the time,” deemed one Mr. Maskell. Another fellow called the idea “wholly unscientific.” A chastened Mr. Hudson said he was just trying to be practical.

The idea of what would become daylight time was revived by an Englishman, William Willett, in the early 1900s. He caught the interest of a young Winston Churchill but did not garner broader support. However, in 1908, Port Arthur, Ont. – today part of Thunder Bay – became the first city to test the concept.

And then, the First World War happened. Time was conscripted to save other resources. Germany instituted the first national time shift, to save coal, and other countries followed for the duration of war.

The system of daylight time North Americans know today goes back to the Uniform Time Act of 1966 in the United States and subsequent expansions of daylight time in 1987 and 2007 – so that an adjusted clock now accounts for almost two-thirds of the year.

A new shift is afoot, as the intellectual descendants of Mr. Hudson and Mr. Willett pursue what is dubbed permanent daylight time.

In the United States, where the decision is a federal one – unlike Canada, where provinces decide the time – Senator Marco Rubio is seeking to codify permanent daylight time in the Sunshine Protection Act. He has taken the mantle of pro-permanent-daylight state legislators in Florida and elsewhere.

British Columbia this week launched a poll of its citizens after legislators in neighbouring Washington almost unanimously backed permanent daylight time. Lawmakers in California are also looking at it after voters in the state supported the change last fall.

And in March, the European Parliament voted to stop springing forward and falling back. Each member state is supposed to choose one system or the other by 2021, although the thought of some countries on standard time and others on daylight time – summer time, in the European parlance – is absurd. In North America, jibing the clock with one’s neighbour has generally been the paramount consideration, with, inevitably, Canada following the U.S. lead.

Proponents of permanent daylight time are quick to pump the logic of their position, the tack first taken by Mr. Hudson. Studies have shown shifting the clock twice a year is at least a little jarring but research into the impact of clock tinkering on energy use, human health and crime seems inconclusive.

Permanent daylight time has been tried, most recently in Russia in 2011, an experiment that lasted three years until Russia decided instead to stick with permanent standard time, joining the majority of people on the planet. Russians found it too dark on winter mornings. It was the same problem in the United States in the mid-1970s, when emergency daylight time was enacted as an energy-savings measure. Clocks sprang forward in January, 1974, and February, 1975, but because popular opinion skewed against dark winter mornings, winter daylight time was abandoned.

Indeed, if the United States were to embrace permanent daylight time, and Canada likely followed, Torontonians on the winter solstice would see sunrise at 8:47 a.m., Vancouverites at 9:05, and Edmontonians at 9:48.

A few dark mornings, however, are a small price to pay to extend winter sunsets past 5 p.m. Shifting clocks twice a year is foolish, as Saskatchewan, that Canadian eschewer of daylight time, has long known. It is less known that Saskatchewan is in fact in the vanguard of time. The province is geographically part of the mountain time zone but is on central standard time year-round. The overall effect? Saskatchewan clocks are on permanent daylight time.

Time, of course, is relative. But the practice of dialing it forward and back to suit a particular season seems antiquated. It may not be Canada’s decision, as we may have no choice but to follow the U.S. lead, but it makes sense to settle on a single agreeable time under permanent daylight time – dark winter mornings be damned.