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From The Hill: Fix the Phoenix payroll system

Richard Cannings — As one of my NDP colleagues said in the House of Commons a few days ago, I hope the government kept the receipt for Phoenix.

Recently, the Auditor General of Canada released a report that addressed the Phoenix payroll that has seriously affected the lives of thousands of civil servants across this country. More than half of the public service sector is caught up in this -- many are being paid well below their proper salaries, some are not being paid at all, while others are being paid too much, all of which creates complications when reporting income tax.

Early in 2016 the government promised to fix this disaster by October 31st of that year.  It’s now over a year past that deadline and the problem has only gotten worse.  Phoenix was supposed to save the government money, but now the Auditor General says that it will cost more than the $540 million allocated by the government to fix the mess, and in fact the total cost will be closer to a billion dollars. 

As one of my NDP colleagues said in the House of Commons a few days ago, I hope the government kept the receipt for Phoenix.  Unfortunately, instead of demanding that IBM fix their disastrous program for free, they are paying IBM to repair the damage.

There are now more than 520,000 outstanding cases, with the average wait to have pay issues resolved sitting at more than three months.

I recently met with a constituent who is having serious problems with the Phoenix system.  A year ago, she was transferred to a new position in the civil service.  It was at the upper end of the administration pay scale, at the same high level as her previous position.  To her dismay, she found her new paycheques came in at the lowest level—a very significant difference.

Two months ago, her new position was deleted and she was laid off.  She never received her final paycheque.  She never received the overtime pay she was owed.  And when she went to Service Canada to apply for Employment Insurance, she was told she needed a Record of Employment.  To her dismay, she was told that Phoenix can’t produce this record, so she can’t even apply for EI.  So now, after a year of receiving far less than she was entitled to receive, she has no money coming in and unless the problem is fixed by the end of the month she may lose the roof over her head.

And while hers may be one of the more serious problems, she is not alone — she is one of over a half million Canadians who are not being paid correctly or at all.

The Liberals keep blaming the previous government for the Phoenix situation because it was the Conservatives who contracted IBM for the original program.  But it was the Liberals who pressed the start button despite strong concerns from experts who told them the program was not ready for implementation.  The government must take steps to end this debacle, even if it means going back to the old payroll system.

I’d like to make a small but important correction to my previous column about the national park proposal for the south Okanagan.  In that I said that the South Okanagan Grassslands Protected Area consists of “Crown Lands on the east side of the Okanagan Valley from Mount Kobau south”; I obviously meant “…the west side of the Okanagan Valley…”.  My apologies for confusing the issue when I meant to clarify.

Richard Cannings, MP  South Okanagan-West Kootenay