Advocates call on province to consider permanent standard time

By Catherine Griwkowsky August 13, 2021

As the province prepares for a binding referendum in October on adopting permanent daylight saving time, some are questioning why permanent standard time is not an option.

Michael Antle, a circadian rhythm expert at the University of Calgary and vice-president of the Canadian Society for Chronobiology, said permanent DST (summer hours) would rank dead last when considering options that fit best with the body’s ideal rhythm, with permanent standard time at the top and the current system in second place.

Antle said sunlight cues when humans wake up, eat and sleep — with sunrise as the most important trigger.

Beyond just losing an hour of sleep when DST kicks in, Antle said it takes the body until the end of April or early May to catch up (the clocks change in early or mid-March).

Going against the body’s clock by waking up far before sunrise can increase cardiac illness, diabetes and car crashes, Antle said. He pointed to the 1973-74 time change in the U.S., when the country reverted midway through the winter due to concerns over children killed in motor vehicle collisions while waiting for the bus.

Antle said Alberta is already situated west of where it ideally should be for its time zone, meaning “solar noon” currently occurs at 1:40 p.m. Because of that, permanent DST would have a “double” effect.

The further north in the province the later sunrise will be in winter. During the shortest days of the year, Calgary wouldn’t see the sun rise until 9:30 a.m. and Grande Prairie could have sunrises as late as 10:20 a.m.

Tricia Velthuizen, press secretary to Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish, said the province would need to consider other jurisdictions and the needs of business as well as Albertans if it permanently moves away from standard time.

“There is both a danger of acting in isolation and of not acting in isolation,” Velthuizen said. “When we look at what other regions are considering, the vast majority are considering a move to permanent Daylight Saving Time.”

U.S. states grappling with debate
Jay Pea, founder and president of the Save Standard Time organization, said there has been a “lemming” effect as North American jurisdictions have followed one another in shifting to permanent DST.

Pea grew up in rural Iowa in a farming family that learned to tell the time of day by the position of the sun. Now a software engineer in San Francisco, he says he’s seen engineers waste many hours trying to address changes in time zones in different states.

In the U.S., federal legislation prohibits permanent daylight saving time nationally, but individual states can implement it on their own.

That’s what happened in Florida in 2018. But when California attempted to follow in Florida’s footsteps, Pea lobbied lawmakers, arguing the benefits from the state’s recently passed change to school start times would be voided by the time change. A vote for permanent DST lapsed.

Now, he is pushing for a move for permanent standard time.

Pea said he was surprised by the pace Alberta is moving at, noting British Columbia’s planned move to permanent DST was delayed after California’s legislation was defeated.

Not the first time change debated
During the final three years of the Second World War, Alberta had permanent DST. The province then shifted to permanent standard time until 1972 when the twice-yearly clock change was brought in.

When the NDP was in government, then-backbencher Thomas Dang proposed a private member’s bill on DST, a move opposed by WestJet. The bill died on the order paper.

The UCP launched a survey on the matter in 2019 but only asked Albertans about a potential move to permanent DST, which Antle said made the data collection flawed.

Pea said the push for permanent DST began in the 1950s, with chambers of commerce believing shoppers were more likely to drive to malls in the evenings with later sunlit hours.

Antle also noted the Rocky Mountain tourist destinations of Banff, Jasper and Lake Louise don’t operate ski lifts until after sunrise, which would mean a delay in operational hours.