Allison Hanes: Changing the clocks has become an outdated ordeal

Despite renewed campaigns in recent years to finally ditch the switch, we remain stuck in a rut.

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No time is a good time to lose an hour of sleep by moving the clocks ahead.

But it always seems particularly cruel in Quebec that the second Sunday in March, the start of daylight time, often coincides with the end of spring break. Such is the case again this year.

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So instead of emerging well-rested and refreshed from a week off school, children are waking up in darkness again. But it’s not just a matter of miserable kids and bleary-eyed parents trying to get back in their routines after March Break.

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Plenty of research and medical evidence demonstrates the lost hour of sleep affects everyone. It disrupts circadian rhythms, throws off digestion, messes with metabolism, raises the risk of heart attack or stroke, exacerbates depression, while contributing to an increase in traffic and workplace accidents. It can be especially tough on babies (whose sleep patterns can be iffy anyway), children with autism and people who do shift work. Even pets aren’t immune.

It can take up to a week to recover from the confusion between body and brain. And while rewinding an hour when daylight time ends in the fall is perhaps more palatable, studies show that, too, throws people off.

So whether starting or ending, losing or gaining, this time turning is a biannual assault on our biological clocks. Why do we bother?

The origins of daylight time date back to efforts during the First World War to conserve light and heat. But the science has since cast doubt on the effectiveness of this onerous measure. Besides, technologies have evolved drastically in the last century. There are easier ways to achieve these goals that don’t involve losing precious slumber.

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The real reason we seem to be stuck in this rut is inertia.

But even with renewed campaigns in recent years to finally ditch the switch, everybody seems to be waiting for someone else to move.

Ontario adopted legislation in 2020 to put a stake through the heart of twice yearly clock changes — but only if New York and Quebec follow suit. Legault was not against the idea after a push by a citizen a few years ago, but didn’t consider it a priority.

B.C. is willing — but only if West Coast states like Washington, Oregon and California go for it, too.

The Atlantic provinces were game in 2022 when U.S. Senator Marco Rubio first introduced the Sunshine Protection Act. But when that effort ran out of steam, so did the motivation for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

And so on and so forth. This makes sense. After all, people, business and lawmakers in nearby jurisdictions want to stay in synch. The problem is if nobody takes the initiative, everybody remains stuck with a futile tradition.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Saskatchewan has never adhered to the time-shifting tradition. Contrary to popular belief, farmers were among the biggest opponents of the practice when it was first introduced more than a century ago, wondering why they should have to start their early morning chores in the dark, just so urbanites could drive home when it’s still light.

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Yukon Territory, embraced daylight time once and for all, instituting Yukon Standard Time in 2020. So going it alone is not unthinkable.

Perhaps the main problem is there are so many bigger issues to occupy decision makers, from climate change to the housing crisis. And people only pay attention to the ill effects of altering the clock twice a year — then quickly forget until we have to do it again.

This may explain the hopelessly halting fate of Rubio’s Sunshine Protection Act. It was first introduced in 2018, but keeps expiring, requiring it to be re-tabled every year.

It got close in 2022, when it was unanimously adopted by the U.S. Senate. But the unusual procedure used to approve it left some Senators having second thoughts and it never got through the House of Representatives. It was reintroduced by Rubio last March, but hasn’t gained much traction since.

Some challenge the method of his solution: keeping daylight time for good, so there would be more light at the end of the day. In his mind, this would spur the economy by encouraging people to stay out later. But it would mean more darkness in the early mornings. So some advocate sticking with standard time.

Whatever way we decide to do it, here’s hoping this is the last time we have to endure the outdated ordeal of springing forward or falling back.

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