EDMONTON — As Albertans ardently debate whether to keep changing their clocks, the government estimates that a referendum on a bill about ending the twice-yearly time change would cost millions.
NDP legislature member Graham Sucha, chair of the Standing Committee on Alberta's Economic Future, said a referendum paired with a provincial election would cost between $2 million and $6 million. Holding a time vote on its own would cost nearly $22 million.
Edmonton senior Orest Windjack told a public consultation hearing Tuesday that he's in favour of continuing to turn clocks back one hour in the fall and move them ahead one hour in the spring. But he suggested a vote may be the best way to go.
"Put it on a ballot when we have an election," he told the five-member hearing panel.
Others who turned out for the meeting were divided on the issue. One woman said the government shouldn't "fight nature" by making the time change in the spring and fall.
Earlier this year, NDP backbencher Thomas Dang spearheaded the private member's bill that would put Alberta on central standard time year round, like Saskatchewan. It would be called Alberta Standard Time.
Alberta would be in sync with its neighbour to the east all year long and stay one hour ahead of British Columbia in the summer. But it would end up two hours ahead of B.C. in the winter.
Daylight time has been a long-running controversy in Alberta since it was brought in by plebiscite in 1971. Critics say it's outdated and annoying, interrupts sleep and causes confusion.
The committee has also met with businesses, including WestJet, that believe ditching the time change would lead to economic losses, said United Conservatives committee member Richard Gotfried. He suggested spending a few million dollars on a referendum might be worth it.
"It will be a one-time cost to make that decision — to give Albertans their voice — versus what could be an ongoing cost of millions of dollars in lost economic opportunity for Alberta."
Gotfried noted that firefighters use the semi-annual time change to remind people to change batteries in their smoke alarms. And he quipped that Edmonton Oilers fans wouldn't be happy staying up later to watch the hockey team play in Vancouver.
Holly Toker, a working mother in Edmonton, told the committee ending the time change would complicate her life. Her driver's licence restricts her from being on the road in the dark and she needs an extra hour of light in the morning so she can take her kids to school and get to work on time.
"It might sound selfish, but I know I can't be the only one," she said.
Neil Hollands of Spruce Grove said Alberta should take a lead by repealing the time change, and other jurisdictions might be more inclined to follow.
In the United States, 23 states are considering similar legislation, said NDP committee member Maria Fitzpatrick.
"If the rest of the world is moving on, I don't want to be behind the eight ball," she said.
People stream into her office twice each year when they have to switch their clocks and ask her to put a stop to it, Fitzpatrick said. In further gauging public opinion, she said, 38 of 39 people in her church choir want to stop making the time change.
The government has received about 13,000 written submissions, with 75 per cent of people wanting to scrap the time change.
Public hearings are to continue Thursday in Calgary and wrap up Friday in Lethbridge. The committee is to submit its report to the government by Oct. 4.
Chris Purdy, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said Richard Gotfried was with the NDP.