One of the good things about democracy is that it surfaces ideas the political elite may not be worried about.
The latest is Yukon time. The Association of Yukon Communities recently unanimously passed a motion asking the Yukon government to reconsider daylight saving time. Newly-elected Liberal backbencher Paolo Gallina chose the issue to make his policy debut in the Yukon legislature, introducing a motion last week.
To my knowledge, policy analysts at the Yukon government have not been working on this topic. Instead, they’ve been spending their time on things like interprovincial trade, carbon taxes, the opioid epidemic and so on.
The Yukon time question has two angles: our time zone and, whatever we decide on that, whether to participate in daylight saving time.
On our time zone, if you look at one of those world time zone maps you’ll see that the Yukon is not actually lined up with the rest of the Pacific Time zone. In fact, the entire Yukon is west of Vancouver. So, if we were ignoring history and national borders, we would be on our physical time zone which is an hour behind Pacific Time.
The Alaskans are currently time zone squatting. But we could let them keep using “real” Yukon time, especially since we can’t stop them anyway.
We would be quite unique in this time zone. If you look at the map, only a few distant islands like Pitcairn Island — home of the Mutiny on the Bounty crew — share real Yukon time with us.
Some Yukoners have suggested moving to Mountain Time. This would be two hours from our “real” time zone as the sun moves. But we could do it if we wanted more time in the evenings after work. In effect, if you got off work at 5pm Mountain Time, then it would feel like 3pm in terms of Yukon sunlight. This would be good for golf and mountain bike aficionados, but enthusiasts of morning activities like sunrise yoga would be annoyed.
There is nothing to stop us at Mountain Time. We could even adopt Eastern Time to have lots of evening sunlight. This would give our officials three more hours of working time every day to lobby officials in Ottawa for money. China does it this way. Cities in the far west of China have to use Beijing time, even though they should be three time zones behind.
One problem with moving to real Yukon time is that the time zone squatters in Alaska have already branded that time zone as Alaska Time. So perhaps we should move 30 minutes to be in between Alaska and BC. This would literally put us on the map, or at least time zone maps.
This would give a nice boost to our tourism marketing, since every radio and TV channel would have to start saying, “and half an hour earlier in the Yukon.” India, Iran, central Australia and Newfoundland are already 30 minutes different from their neighbours.
To really stand out and avoid accusations we were copying Newfoundland, we could go 15 minutes off the hour, like Nepal.
Then there is the question of daylight saving time. According to the surprisingly enthusiastic community of people on the internet who comment on daylight saving time, it was Benjamin Franklin who first came up with the idea. Then a New Zealander named George Hudson in 1895. The first major implementation was by Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War, in part since the Allied blockade was causing severe energy shortages.
However, it turns out that there is a significant debate among experts as to whether daylight saving time really saves energy. Some studies find that it does save a few per cent, which can be a significant benefit over a large population, while others are inconclusive. There have even been a few studies that found it may cause extra energy use.
A lot depends on the habits and energy use patterns of the jurisdiction in question. If you are in effect getting up earlier and using more light and heat in the cold, dark morning, that may balance out similar benefits in the evening.
Changing the clocks can also affect the sleep patterns of people, pets and farm animals. This may be negative, although it may also give us more time for healthy evening exercise. It also affects some industries differently. Dairy farmers tend not to like it, while purveyors of outdoor sporting events in the evening are in favour, for example.
In the north, where our daylight hours change so greatly over the year, the results are even harder to pin down.
One thing is certain, however. The switch takes effort and can be confusing. How many minutes does the nation spend resetting clocks, or looking for the manual for the microwave oven to avoid having it wrong half the year? And, as I can attest, it is very annoying to find yourself at a dark hockey rink with the kids an hour before it really opens. Nor do the children enjoy standing at the bus stop for an hour, or walking to school that one day a year when the bus drives by an hour early while they are still in their pyjamas.
The change causes persistent trouble for airlines and TV programmers.
Overall, the case for daylight saving time is debatable. However, as a small jurisdiction dependent we may find it easiest to keep doing whatever B.C. and Ottawa do. It would be annoying to miss transfer payment conference calls and flights in Vancouver because our relationship with our neighbours was inconsistent over the year.
While I’m glad our politicians invest some time in thinking outside the box, I’m not convinced that Yukon time is one of our biggest problems. Government can’t do everything at once. I suggest any review of our time zone be fast and focused, and not distract from efforts on things like the opioid crisis or green energy.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist.