Let’s Stop the Clock

At the end of this month, October 31, Ontarians will take part in a biannual tradition. It won’t just be trick-or-treating and scary movies; Ontarians will also move their clocks back an hour as part of daylight saving time. This autumn change is known colloquially as the “fall back.” I have long been an opponent of this outdated practice. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is left feeling groggy and off-put in the days following these changes. It’s a hassle to have to change over all of your clocks, especially your car clock, and I would be surprised if I was the only one who has overslept and missed a meeting as a result of the change. That is why I have brought forward this PMB, which will eliminate the biannual time change in Ontario and move us to permanent daylight saving time.

As I often do, I would like to begin by looking at the history of this practice to better understand why we adopted it in the first place. The time change gained widespread usage after it was implemented by Germany during World War I. The Germans wanted to see if by adjusting their clock, they could save on coal consumption, a valuable commodity during wartime. Not wanting to be outmatched, the British, Americans and Canadians soon followed suit. Ever since that time, we have followed this practice without much consideration of the benefits or harms.

However, recent studies have started to suggest that the time change may be causing much more harm than good. Firstly, there have been several studies that have suggested that the time change is having no material effect on our energy consumption, as any savings at one time of the day are inevitably eaten up at the other end. In fact, the US National Bureau of Economic Research released a study that concluded that daylight saving time might actually be wasting energy because heaters and air conditioners were being kept on later to account for extended afternoon daylight. Furthermore, we have seen adverse health outcomes from this practice.

Denmark’s Psychiatric Central Research Register found that depression levels spiked as much as 8% in early November after the fall back. One of the researchers, Søren Østergaard, is quoted as saying, “We are relatively certain that it is the transition from daylight saving time to standard time that causes the increase in the number of depression diagnoses and not, for example, the change in the length of the day or bad weather.”

A US study looked at hospital records across the United States and found a 24% increase in heart attacks amongst higher-risk populations following the spring forward time change. Similarly, the American Academy of Neurology found an 8% increase in strokes at the same time.

The Japanese Society of Sleep Research has suggested that the time change may lead to a rise in suicide deaths, and another study, published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine, found a 10% increase in fatal automobile collisions as a result of the time change. A metastudy by Rutgers backs up this finding on vehicle collisions, arguing that “Results show that full-year daylight saving time would reduce pedestrian fatalities by 171 per year, or by 13% of all pedestrian fatalities in the 5 a.m.-10 a.m. and in the 4 p.m.-9 p.m. time periods. Motor vehicle occupant fatalities would be reduced by 195 per year, or 3%, during the same time periods.”

This also has a spillover effect in the workplace. An article published in the Journal of the American Psychological Association found a sizable amount of workplace injuries associated with daylight-saving-time-induced fatigue. Beyond these quantifiable health impacts, we can also see a decrease in productivity linked to the time change. A joint German-British study found that both Germans and Brits experienced non-negligible losses of utility after losing an hour of sleep. A Penn State study found individuals also increased their time “cyberloafing”—i.e. wasting time on the Internet—at work after the time change.

Let’s take a moment to summarize these findings. The time change is a wartime practice that no longer serves its original purpose. It is causing more people to be depressed. It is likely leading to an increase in heart attacks, strokes and, potentially, suicides. It is likely causing more fatal car crashes and workplace injuries, Finally, it is decreasing our productivity. This begs the question: Why are we keeping it?

The rest of the world certainly doesn’t see much benefit. In fact, 79% of the world does not follow this practice, and more jurisdictions are looking at shrugging it off. Saskatchewan and the Yukon have already abandoned the practice, with Alberta and BC publicly musing on the possibility. In the United States, Arizona and Hawaii don’t follow the time-change practice, and no fewer than Alaska, California, Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Washington state are all considering the same. Across the pond, the European Union is also considering ending the practice.

Ontario should be at the forefront of this charge, but we also can’t be unreasonable. Previous bills have been brought forward in this Legislature to make a similar change, and I would like to take a moment to commend those members for their efforts on this incredibly important initiative. However, these bills have all called upon the government to introduce the change immediately upon passage of the legislation. This would be problematic.

There are two factors which must be considered prior to the ending of the biannual time change. First, we would want to do the change in coordination with the state of New York. Ontario benefits from sharing the same time zone as the markets in New York City. It will continue to be in our best interest to preserve this commonality.

Second, Ontario should not implement this without Quebec following suit. As an Ottawa-area MPP, there are several logistical reasons for this. While Ottawa is the nation’s capital, much of the federal government’s workforce is spread out across both downtown Ottawa and Gatineau. In fact, the largest concentration of federal civil servants anywhere in the world other than the Pentagon is headquartered in the Portage complex in Gatineau. It would be logistically unfeasible for half of the federal government to be on one time zone while the other half, just across the river, was on another.

Because of these twin considerations, my bill proposes that this change would only come into effect at the discretion of the Attorney General. This would allow the AG to implement this change only when the appropriate changes are also set to take effect in Quebec and New York.

Should this bill be passed into law, I will be endeavouring to reach out to counterparts in those neighbouring jurisdictions to advance this cause.

I would like to take a moment to thank the Attorney General for supporting my efforts. The Attorney General often remarks that the first letter he wrote upon assuming his office as Attorney General was actually a letter to me on this very topic. I had been lobbying him on this from the moment he took office, and I’m sure if the Attorney General were here with us today, he would confess to being skeptical of the idea at first. However, I have gradually won him over, as I hope to do with all of you today.

Amongst jurisdictions considering ending this practice, there has been some debate over whether to move to permanent standard time or permanent daylight saving time. Most jurisdictions are opting for permanent daylight saving time, which is what my bill also proposes. The reasons for this are both common sense and practical. Permanent daylight saving time will, on average, provide us with more sunlight in the evenings, which is generally the preferred leisure time of working Ontarians. The practical implications are many: More daylight in the evening will likely generate more economic activity, as individuals are more likely to go out shopping after work if it is still light out. A JPMorgan Chase study found a decrease of 3.5% retail activity following the fall back change. This is backed up by a Massachusetts-commissioned report that also found that year-round DST would positively impact consumer spending because of additional evening daylight. Also, according to the Brookings Institution, robberies fall, on average, by 7% following the spring change to daylight saving time, which is believed to be linked to the increase in evening sunlight. All of these arguments have made a compelling case for why we should make daylight saving time the de facto time for Ontario.

Ontarians are facing challenging times during COVID-19. Alongside the public health challenges, we are also seeing mental health issues spiking and ongoing economic issues. As we contemplate how to tackle these problems, I would posit that ending the biannual time change and shifting to permanent daylight saving time is a credible part of a stimulus plan. In fact, the JPMorgan Chase study referenced above argued that making DST permanent may be an effective stimulus, and more effective than other policy measures.

The time change is shown to cause an increase in depression, an already worrying problem in our current context. Moreover, the fall back could hurt our retail activity at a time when we need to see the exact opposite.

While we may not be able to avert this 2020 fall back on Halloween, let’s work together to start a regional dialogue with our neighbours. Ontario can lead the way on making this change, and we can leave an enormous legacy as the 42nd Ontario Parliament in passing this permanent change.

I am strongly in favour of sound public policy that reflects data and research, and as I have presented today, there is ample data to support this change.