Clocks set to go back this weekend as debate over seasonal time changes continues

Maleeha Sheikh explains what daylight saving time means for shift workers

Depending on who you ask, changing our clocks back an hour to mark the end of daylight saving time (DST) could be heartily welcomed in order to get extra sleep or rebuffed as it marks one step closer to darker winters.

One of the earliest pushes for DST dates back nearly 115 years.

In 1907, United Kingdom resident William Willett is credited as being among the first to advocate for DST — which sees clocks move forward an hour in the spring and an hour back in the fall.

In a handout entitled The Waste of Daylight, it championed the idea of earlier wake-up times during the summer.

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“Everyone appreciates the long light evenings. Everyone laments their shrinkage as autumn approaches, and nearly everyone has given utterance to a regret that the clear bright light of early morning during spring and summer months, is so seldom seen or used,” an excerpt of the document, posted on the National Museums Scotland website, noted.

“Nevertheless, standard time remains so fixed that for nearly half the year the sun shines upon the land for several hours each day while we are asleep.”

Eventually legislation passed in the United Kingdom in May 1916 adopting daylight standard time, but it came after Willett died of influenza. Also, Germany beat out the country by just a few weeks to become the first nation in the world to enact the change.

While both countries fought to make history, in Canada residents in select communities were forging their own path toward DST. The town of Port Arthur (which is located in present-day Thunder Bay) began switching clocks in mid-1908. Other towns followed suit in subsequent years and in 1918, the federal government moved to enact legislation bringing it to the country.

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Many of those in favour of DST and against changing clocks twice a year put forth arguments such as helping to prevent an uptick in vehicle collisions, better sleep patterns and other health benefits, and/or saving energy. However, many of those in favour of keeping DST have argued it ensures there are brighter mornings.

Currently, it is up to provinces and territories to determine adherence to DST, which most still do.

British Columbia has already decided to stick with daylight time but is waiting on states to the south to do the same. Yukon decided last year to no longer make seasonal changes and now follows its own standard time zone. Saskatchewan doesn’t change its clocks.

Last month, Albertans voting in a referendum narrowly rejected a switch to permanent daylight time. Psychologists with expertise in circadian rhythms had warned that the switch would mean some areas of Alberta wouldn’t see the sun rise in the winter until about 10 a.m.

In Ontario, daylight saving time officially comes to an end at 2 a.m. on Sunday and that’s when the clocks move back an hour. The province will reenter DST on March 13.

Could Ontario stick with daylight saving time year-round?

Jeremy Roberts, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario MPP for the riding of Ottawa West-Nepean, introduced a bill called the Time Amendment Act at Queen’s Park to permanently adopt Daylight Saving Time. It was unanimously passed by MPPs and became law in November 2020.

However, there’s a major caveat: The change would only come into effect if the New York state and Quebec governments passed similar legislation.

When asked for an update on the initiative, a spokesperson for Roberts said he has written to legislators in both jurisdictions to advocate for the change.

The representative said Quebec Premier Francois Legault indicated an openness to the proposal, but nothing has been introduced in the province’s National Assembly.

Joseph De Koninck from the University of Ottawa’s Brain and Mind Research Institute agrees that changing the clocks should stop, but suggests that sticking to daylight time year-round is the worst option.

Standard time is the best choice for the general population’s health because it is more in line with solar time and people’s body clocks, said the sleep expert.

He said if Ontario moves to permanent daylight time, cities such as Ottawa wouldn’t see dawn break until about 8:45 a.m. in December and January.

“A lot of people would be going to work in the dark, which is the worst thing that could happen to your biological clock, because you need the exposure to daylight in the morning to start your internal clock.”

De Koninck said having more light later in the day could have economic benefits as it could boost consumerism after work. But it would also increase mood disorders, weaken immune systems and increase the risk for certain cancers, he said.

He pointed to Russia, a country as far north as Canada, which moved to permanent daylight time in 2011, only to abandon it three years later. Studies showed it particularly affected children and their academic performance, De Koninck said.

Files from The Canadian Press were used in this report

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