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Daylight saving time comes to an end this weekend — amid renewed scrutiny

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November 03, 2017 - 10:45 AM

Daylight saving time ends on Sunday in most parts of the country, with many Canadians dreading the darkness that will come earlier every night until the solstice on Dec. 21.

As usual, most people will turn their clocks back an hour on or before Sunday at 2 a.m. with little complaint. But there are rumblings across the continent that people are growing weary of moving their timepieces ahead one hour in the spring — losing an hour of sleep — and then turning them back in the fall.

"Most people dislike having to change their clocks and lose an hour of sleep," said David Prerau, author of "Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time" and one of the world's leading experts on the subject.

"It's a pain. They think it's easier just to get rid of it."

As a result, the daylight-optimizing system, largely standardized across North America in the 1960s, is facing a new wave of challenges.

In Alberta, proposed legislation that would have ended the practice won overwhelming support in August when the public was asked to weigh in on the idea. Of the 13,000 submissions received, 75 per cent were in favour of scrapping the system.

However, the Alberta legislature shot down the idea this week after an all-party committee said the impact on business would be too onerous.

Still, those opposed to the system can always point to Saskatchewan, which rejected daylight saving when the idea took hold more than 50 years ago. To this day, turning clocks forward and backward is a foreign concept in all but a few corners of the province. Arizona is also an DST abstainer. Indiana held out until 2006.

Meanwhile, opposition to daylight time, which extends from the second Sunday in March to the first Sunday in November, has been gaining ground among the six New England states, which could have repercussions for the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In September, a special commission in Massachusetts recommended the state — now in the eastern time zone — should extend daylight saving year-round, but only if the other states in the region follow suit. Some of the other states have already tabled bills to make the change, though it could take years to accomplish.

The main goal, according to proponents, would be to add an extra hour of afternoon daylight in the winter. Such a change could increase productivity and curb on-the-job injuries and traffic fatalities, according to one Massachusetts study.

However, plans to eliminate the twice-a-year time change have failed in the past, Prerau said.

When the United States was hit by an oil supply crisis in the early 1970s, the federal government decided to extend daylight time year-round for two years in a bid to save energy.

But the plan unravelled that first winter as schoolchildren headed off to classes in the dark, raising the ire of parents across the country.

"In more northern areas, not only would it be darker in the morning, it would be colder because the coldest hour in the day is the one before sunrise," said Prerau, who has coauthored three major U.S. government reports to Congress on the effects of daylight saving time.

"The issue became very unpopular ... Most people preferred having the daylight in the morning."

During the second year of the U.S. program, daylight time was lifted between November and February, the darkest months of the year.

As for the proposals emerging in New England, the one from Massachusetts calls for pushing back the start of the school day. Bills have been filed in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

Prerau said he's surprised these proposals have progressed as far as they have, considering the economic powerhouse in the U.S. northeast, neighbouring New York State, appears uninterested in the scheme.

"If New York didn't change, that would be a negative for Boston," he said.

However, if the proposals are adopted, New England would become part of the Atlantic standard time zone, which would mean that its clocks would be synchronized with those in the three Maritime provinces between November and March.

"There's some benefit to being in the same time zone with someone you're dealing with in a business relationship," Prerau said, suggesting the Maritimes would be under pressure to drop daylight time to stay in sync year-round.

In no secret that Canada, in general, has followed the United States in lockstep when it comes to making the most of daylight hours.

That's what happened in 2007 when daylight time was extended in the U.S. by a month in the spring and by a few days in the fall.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2017
The Canadian Press

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