Legislation concerning legal time in Québec, from 1880 to 2007

An examination of the legislation concerning legal time in Québec shows that, prior to the 1960s, both the general public and the government placed much less importance on standardized laws concerning time, particularly with respect to the period during which daylight saving time applied.

In the 1880s, Québec was divided into two parts on either side of the meridian of 68° West longitude, with one part using Atlantic standard time and the other part Eastern standard time, although no law made this compulsory. The division was based on the system of Universal Standard Time developed by Sir Sanford Fleming.

In 1918, during World War I, the Canadian House of Commons passed the Daylight Saving Act (Statutes of Canada 1918, c. 2). It applied to all the Canadian provinces, and was the first law to specify a period of daylight saving time.

In 1920, the Québec Legislative Assembly (the name "National Assembly" was only introduced in 1968) passed the Act respecting time (Statutes of Québec, 1920, c. 11), which became the Official Time Act in the Revised Statutes of 1925. Québec's first legislation used the meridian of 68° West longitude as the reference meridian for determining the official time, and authorized the Commission des services publics du Québec to set schedules for public services.

This first law, however, said nothing about daylight saving, or "summer", time. Despite that, it seems that, in the years after the law was enacted, certain municipalities applied daylight saving time for a specified period (O. Héroux, L'organisation du gâchis, Le Devoir, February 21, 1924).

In 1924, the Legislative Assembly adopted the Act respecting a referendum to the electors with regard to daylight saving (Statutes of Québec,1924, c. 15), which later became known as the Daylight Saving Act. It authorized municipalities to consult their municipal electors about daylight saving time. The referendum question had to specify when the daylight saving period started and ended.

With support from its electors, a municipality could ask the government to establish daylight saving time, within the municipality, for the period specified. Once daylight saving time was implemented, the municipality had to issue a reminder each year that the clocks were to be put forward, or could hold another referendum to ask its electors if they wished to return to standard time. Only one referendum on time per year was allowed, but whatever the municipality requested, the government was not required to implement its choice.

The Daylight Saving Act came into force in March, and referendums on daylight saving time were held a few weeks later. The cities where electors voted in favour of daylight saving time in 1924 included Québec and Sherbrooke, although the "Yes" votes in Québec obtained only a slight majority.

The mechanisms provided for in the 1924 Act were not the only way in which a municipality could ask the government to decree a period of daylight saving time. In fact, most of the orders in council adopted in 1924 concerning daylight saving time were for municipalities that had not held referendums, such as Montréal. In municipalities where no referendum was held, the order-in-council could only establish daylight saving time for the current year.

On April 2, 1928, during the municipal elections, Montrealers were asked to vote on the matter of daylight saving time. The application of a period of daylight saving time was approved by a majority of 14,878 votes out of a total of 102,907. It is interesting to note that, in both Québec and Montréal, neighbourhoods with a large working-class population (Saint-Sauveur in Québec and Maisonneuve in Montréal) voted against daylight saving time.

In 1928, a new law added the following paragraph to the Official Time Act:

“5. When a municipality has asked for the change of standard time for a year and an order-in-council has been passed in accordance with such request, the standard time shall remain changed for the succeeding years as regards such municipality, with the exception that daylight saving so enacted shall take effect from the first Saturday in May, at midnight, and shall cease to have effect on the last Saturday in September, at midnight, whatever period of time was originally fixed in the order-in-council for such first year. Such change shall so continue from year to year until the council of the municipality shall have, by resolution, expressed its volition to terminate for the future the change in standard time or to alter it, and until an order-in-council shall have been passed in accordance therewith.” 

The provisions of this section did not make any distinction as to whether or not the population of the municipality in question had voted in a referendum on daylight saving time. In 1928 and 1929, orders-in-council established daylight savings periods different from those mentioned in section 5. For example, the daylight saving period ended on September 1 in the city of Saint-Jérôme (order-in-council 1929-755, dated April 24, 1929) but on October 5 in Kénogami (order-in-council 673 dated April 18, 1929).

The two orders-in-council also highlighted another discrepancy. In the order dated April 18, the change was to take effect on Saturday at midnight, whereas in the order dated April 24, the changes took effect on Sunday at one minute past midnight. However, despite the different wording, it appears that all changes were made during the night of Saturday to Sunday.

The problems caused by differences between neighbouring municipalities - not only with respect to daylight saving time itself, but also concerning the start and end dates of the daylight saving period - apparently continued at least until 1935, when they were mentioned in a newspaper article (O. Héroux, L'heure d'été, Le Devoir, March 8, 1935).

In 1937, the Act to reduce the powers granted to the Lieutenant-Governor in Council by regimes prior to the 25th of August, 1936 (1937, c. 51) amended the Daylight Saving Act to allow the Minister of the ministère des Affaires municipales, de l'industrie et du commerce to authorize requests from municipalities concerning daylight saving time. However, the power was retained by cabinet, which used it in response to a referendum in which the citizens of Huntingdon voted against daylight saving time (order-in-council 1940-1491, dated April 9, 1940).

During World War II, acting of a recommendation of the Minister of Munitions and Supply, the federal government made daylight saving time obligatory year round to conserve energy in Ontario and Québec (order-in-council P.C. 1940-4994, dated September 28, 1940), except for transportation and telegraph companies. During the winter of 1942, the government decided that it would be advantageous for Canada's war effort if the measure were applied across the country, with no exceptions (order-in-council P.C. 1942-547, dated January 26, 1942). It was then revoked on September 30, 1945 (order-in-council P.C. 1945-6122, dated September 30, 1945). Except in time of war, the federal government showed little interest in the question of daylight saving time.

Once the war ended, the municipalities once again had to submit requests concerning official time to the Government of Québec. It seems reasonable to think that once permission had been obtained from the government to apply daylight saving time within a municipality, the matter would be settled for the subsequent years and daylight saving time would automatically apply. However, it appears that the government's approach was to adopt orders that applied only for the current year, forcing municipalities whose voters supported daylight saving time to renew their request year after year.

It also appears that, in the portion of Québec located to the west of the 68° West longitude, most municipalities requested the implementation of daylight saving time for the summer.

In 1963, the government adopted order-in-council 1963-400, dated March 12, 1963. The third, fourth and fifth paragraphs read as follows:

“WHEREAS almost all of the municipalities included in this part of the Province which is situated west of the above mentioned meridian adopt, for the summer season, that is from the last Sunday in April at 12:01 a.m. to the last Sunday in October at 12:01 a.m. Standard Time which is four hours behind Greenwich Time;

“WHEREAS the municipal county of Témiscouata included in this part of the Province which is situated west of the meridian of the 68° west longitude but it is not expedient to modify the Standard Time as fixed by order in council number 1896 of October 31, 1962;

“WHEREAS it is better to modify the Standard Time for this part of the Province which is situated west of the meridian of the 68° west longitude during the summer season so as to avoid having the municipalities concerned being obliged to renew this request each year, except for the municipalities forming part of the municipal county of Témiscouata;”

According to the third paragraph of this order-in-council, the daylight saving period started on the last Sunday in April and ended on the last Sunday in October.

Under the fifth paragraph, daylight saving time was implemented for the portion of Québec located to the west of the 68° West longitude, except the county of Témiscouata.

The Official Time Act was adopted in 1966 (Statutes of Québec, 1966, c. 3). During the debate on the passage in principle, the Honourable Jean Lesage, Premier of Québec, speaking on behalf of the government, stated that the purpose of the Act was to simplify Québec’s legislation on official time to ensure that the matter was no longer governed by a federal law (Debates of the Legislative Assembly of Québec, 1966-02-17, pp. 786 to 789). At the time, the Senate was in fact studying a bill that would have set the official time in the various provinces of Canada.

The Official Time Act retained the situation resulting from order-in-council 1963-400, with a few differences, including the following:

  • the daylight saving period started at 2:00 a.m. rather than one minute after midnight;
  • the government’s power to adopt regulations changing the time was not included and, as a result, disappeared.

The Official Time Act has been amended on two occasions since coming into force, namely in 1969 and 1986.

In 1969, the reference meridian dividing Québec into two parts for the purposes of time was changed to the meridian of 63° West longitude (Statues of Québec, 1969, c. 10).

The meridian of 63° West longitude is located slightly to the east of Havre-Saint-Pierre, crosses the middle of the Île d'Anticosti and continues between Gaspé and Îles-de-la-Madeleine. The entire continental portion of Québec located to the south of the fleuve Saint-Laurent and east of the meridian of 68° West longitude was placed in the same time zone as the portion of Québec located to the west. The municipal county of Témiscouata and the city of Cabano became subject to the same provisions in matters of time as the surrounding regions of Québec, and were no longer mentioned specifically in the Official Time Act.

During the detailed examination of the bill, Robert Lussier, Minister of ministère des Affaires municipales, stated that the change was intended to satisfy the residents of the regions located to the east of the meridian of 68° West longitude who, in their own words, wanted to "live on Québec time".

In 1986, the date on which the daylight saving period starts was moved from the last Sunday in April to the first Sunday in April. This change, like similar changes to the laws governing daylight saving time in the other Canadian provinces, was intended to bring the daylight saving time period in the Canadian provinces into line with the corresponding period in neighbouring regions of the United States. A few months earlier, the U.S. Congress had amended its legislation to start daylight saving time on the first Sunday in April and not the last.

It appears that, in the southern states, outdoor temperatures in the first weeks of April are mild enough to allow for various outdoor leisure activities, including barbecuing. This is why the "barbecue lobby" is referred to in several newspaper articles in Québec and, probably in other provinces as well where laws were passed to allow daylight saving time to start earlier.

In 2006, the Legal Time Act (States of Québec, 2006, c. 39) replaced the Official Time Act. The goal was to match the system introduced in neighbouring US states following the coming into force of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which targeted energy savings. It moved the start of summer time, beginning in 2007, to the second Sunday in March, and delayed the return to regular time by one week, to the first Sunday in November. Depending on the year, summer time applied for 4 or 5 weeks longer.

The new Act also sought to officialize various exceptions to the Official Time Act, to replace the concept of Greenwich mean time by that of coordinated universal time (CUT), and to make the Minister of Justice responsible for its administration.

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