Most of us outside Saskatchewan put our clocks back an hour yesterday, and we’ve now returned to what some might call “God’s time”. Of course, when it comes to the o’clock, it’s actually the law that disposes, and the law’s been setting our watches backwards and forwards for just over a hundred years. At the beginning of the last century, the English builder, William Willet, found a champion in Parliament to get his scheme passed for recapturing “some of the hours of wasted sunlight in the spring, summer, and autumn.”
Perhaps fearing that a jump of a full hour would discombobulate people, Willet originally proposed that time be changed in four steps of twenty minutes each, on the first four Sunday’s in April—and then back again in the same four steps in the same way in September. Reason prevailed and the compromise of a one-hour change was reached. The proposed bill read as follows:
And, as we all know only too well, once the law has sat you down in the client chair, it’s not easy to get up and get away. So it has proved for time. That fickle hour has been dancing to legislatures’ tunes ever since — albeit sometimes reluctantly, as when the United States fairly recently decided to prolong Daylight Saving Time until the first Sunday in November and, after grumbling, Canada shuffled into step.
The relevant statutes are brief, yet interesting to look at.
Ontario, for instance, doesn’t shilly-shally but gets right to the point and calls the statute the Time Act. (There’s a whiff of hubris about this, it seems to me; but then I prefer that to an alternative such as “An Act to Improve the Mornings of the Ordinary People of this Province Thanks to the Beneficent Leadership of the Current Government,” a tendentious style that seems to have caught on here in the last decade or so.) Disappointing after such a brisk and bold title, section 1 evidences most of the sins of lawyerly English, though:
Where an expression of time occurs in any Act, proclamation, regulation, order in council, rule, order, by-law, agreement, deed or other instrument, heretofore or hereafter enacted, made or executed, or where any hour or other point in time is stated either orally or in writing, or any question as to time arises, the time referred to or intended shall, unless it is otherwise specifically stated, be held to be the time in effect as provided by this Act.
I found it interesting that Daylight Saving Time is set (in the only other section, i.e., 2) with reference to “Greenwich time.” But any system needs a zero-point, and since the English invented DST, it’s only fair they get to be it. Amusing, too, that in Quebec the very same zero point is, more scientifically perhaps, and certainly voided of geographic nuances, called “coordinated universal time” (as to which see Wikipedia). Also, Quebec, Pascal-like, hedges its bets and calls the act, modestly, the “Legal Time Act,” — also leaving room for “les bons temps” to “rouler” too.
Alberta’s act is very much like Ontario’s (or vice versa), referring to “Greenwich mean time” as the way to measure daylight saving time. Unlike Ontario, however, Alberta has clearly got some fractious regions to deal with, because it feels it necessary to say (quite clumsily) that no municipality or Metis settlement may “proclaim, enforce, use” etc. daylight saving time other than that set out in the act.
But when it comes to temporal complexity — as expressed in legislation, at least — nothing compares to the province that has as an unofficial but great motto: “hard to spell, easy to draw.” I’m talking of Saskatchewan, of course. It turns out that it’s only most of the province that doesn’t do the temporal two step, and so it takes a bit of verbiage to carve out the exceptions in its Time Act — 31 sections of it.
Oh, and you’ll observe, please, that it’s daylight saving time — no plurals anywhere — it’s the law.