moved that Bill C-327, an act to establish a national standard for the representation of dates in all-numeric form, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I greatly appreciate the support of my colleague from Winnipeg South. He is a big supporter of this kind of thing.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to speak to Bill C-327, which I introduced earlier this year. It is an act to establish a national standard for the representation of dates in all numeric form. The bill addresses a matter which is of increasing importance in this post-millennium computer age. I would say this is our date with destiny.
I want to thank all those who have worked hard to promote standardized all numeric dates over the years. This is a dry but nonetheless very important topic that affects everyone in Canada and indeed everyone in the world.
I would like to mention Ross Stevenson, the former MP for Durham, who introduced a similar bill in 1990. I would also like to mention the member for Elk Island who has introduced bills on this topic and who continues to crusade for a standard system of expressing dates. I would also like to express my thanks to Duncan Bath of Peterborough. He and his colleagues have championed this cause for many years.
My riding of Peterborough is often remembered as a bastion of opposition to what we used to call the metric system. It is less often remembered that Peterborough was also a national base for the promotion of the metric system, especially through the efforts of the Canadian General Electric Company and people associated with that business.
The bill has nothing to do with the metric or the SI systems, but it does deal directly with the importance of national standards in everyday life, in business and in science. Interest in international standards continues in Peterborough to this very day.
As long as dates are written out in longhand or spoken they present few problems. For example, the 2nd day of the 10th month of the year 2001 is a very clear way of giving today's date as long as one speaks English or, in the translated version of this speech, as long as one speaks French.
However, all numeric dates are increasingly used in the programming of computers, for example, in mass billings or other mailings, or by people communicating with each other by computer. Such dates are compact and, properly expressed, they can be read by people irrespective of their language.
However, without a standard format both humans and computers can quickly become confused, sometimes dangerously confused. Let us say that I come across a can of food with a due date of 04/01/02. I ask the members of the House whether that date is: February 4, 1901, February 4, 2001, April 2, 1901, April 2, 2001, January 4, 1902, January 4, 2002, April 1, 1902, April 1, 2002, January 2, 1904, January 2, 2004, February 2, 1904, or February 1, 1904. This one date, 04/01/02, has 12 possible interpretations if we do not know the order of the numbers in the date.
Do I open this can of food and consume the contents because that is the due date? I have to say that some members are immediately saying the early 20th century dates like 1901 or 1902 are hypothetical. This is not the case. I once found a can of meat quite well preserved after more than 100 years in a cache of a 19th century expedition to the Canadian Arctic. Sadly, the due date had been worn off by blizzards during the 100 years so I do not know which date format was used. I have to say that the meat was fine.
I should also point out that using a mixed letter/number format does not help much.
The date I gave before of 04/01/02 could be 04/Jan/02. People who read English or French might think they understand exactly what that is but this could still represent a date in 1902, 2002, 1904 or 2004. Even with Jan inserted, for those of us who read French and English, there are still four possible interpretations.
At present, not only do businesses and government departments use different date conventions, the same business or department may use more than one. For example my friend, Duncan Bath, in Peterborough received an account statement from his bank with a day/month/year date on one line and with a month/day/year format on the very next line.
Lloyd Kitchen of Manitoba, in a letter to Maclean's , pointed out that 02-04-06 means April 2, 2006 on a Manitoba driver's licence, I say this to my friend from Winnipeg South. It means April 6, 2002 on a GST form. It means February 4, 2006 on his car repair bill, and June 2, 2004 as the best before date on a package of prunes. Just think what those prunes could do if the date was misinterpreted.
The ad hoc use of numerical dates is confusing, inefficient and potentially dangerous. For example, there is the danger of confusing dates on prescriptions and medications or on cheques. All this could be solved quite easily by agreement on a standard all numeric date format.
My emphasis is on agreement not on the format, but the format I propose would be year-month-day. This is not my idea. This is a standard approach accepted years ago by the International Standards Organization as ISO 8601 1988 and adopted by our own standards body, the Canadian Standards Association, as a national standard of Canada; of course it is a voluntary national standard of Canada because that is the way we operate here.
They argue, as do I, that the most useful approach is to go from large to small, from the general to the particular. We do this in most other cases, for example: hours/minutes/seconds; dollars/cents; for angles it is degrees/minutes/seconds; and even our numbering system goes from thousands/hundreds/ tens/units, from large to small.
The bill proposes that Industry Canada promote this national standard so that today's date, when expressed numerically, would be 2001/10/02. That is the format on which once we have agreed on the order there can be absolutely no doubt. It would be October 2, 2001. The way it is said or written out in full does not matter. It is only when it is all numerical that we must know the order of the digits.
In the format I am proposing, I suggest that the year be put in full. Therefore it would be 2001/10/02. That is for added clarification.
I urge all members to support this standard approach to the use of all numeric dates. It will make our lives safer and less confusing and it will make for greater efficiency in our government and non-government organizations.
Not so long ago, by spending billions of dollars, the whole world survived Y2K. The problem then was dates embedded in computer programs and records, in formats that varied greatly. Although we still do not know, this may have solved the problem in computers but it has not solved the problem for people using computers and their products. The public is inconvenienced, put at risk and ultimately has to pay for the lack of a standard way of expressing dates.
I strongly urge the federal government, especially Industry Canada, and agencies to move quickly to set an example on this issue. Let us begin by programming the machines that spew out bills, cheques and mass mailings in a standard date format. Then we can forget about the date format in all those cases as it would be programmed in. Then let us move on to standardized dates in less automated cases.
I commend Canada Post, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency and some other organizations for being reasonably consistent in these matters. I am sure they would be glad to advise others on them.
I hope this debate will draw the attention of those in power to set the date format for their organization so the public has the right to read the date in a standardized, unambiguous manner.
I look forward to comments from all my colleagues here in the House on this very important topic.