Hundreds of executives took home a combined $4.8 million in performance pay over the past year, despite a continuing backlog of payroll problems for public servants across the country.
About 340 people who work for Public Services and Procurement Canada — the department in charge of the troubled Phoenix pay system — were awarded with performance pay, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons after a written question from Conservative MP Kelly McCauley.
Only some of the people who received bonuses have been involved with Phoenix in some way, but did not play a major role, said Public Services and Procurement Canada's Deputy Minister Marie Lemay.
"Be assured that we studied each performance evaluation and people are getting what they deserve," said Lemay.
The average performance payment to the 340 workers was more than $14,000 per person between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, according to the documents.
Not all executives worked on Phoenix
Since federal workers had their files moved to a consolidated pay system called Phoenix last spring, tens of thousands of workers, retirees and employees on leave have reported problems with their pay, with some being overpaid, some paid too little and some not at all.
'We've actually not given the performance pay to senior level executives' - Marie Lemay, Deputy Minister of PSPC
The executives with PSPC who did receive performance pay are "low-level managers" who "don't necessarily work on this [Phoenix] project all of the time," said Lemay.
The department held off on giving bonuses to senior leadership involved in Phoenix until an internal evaluation wraps up this summer, said Lemay.
"We've actually not given the performance pay to senior level executives, we said we would wait...," said Lemay.
She also said that she could likely count on her fingers how many people are entirely dedicated to only working on the Phoenix system.
"We're probably talking about under 10 people, maybe even five strictly dedicated to that," she said.
Minister Judy Foote said the four people who were in charge of the rollout have left the department.
"The employees who were responsible and working most closely with the Phoenix rollout are no longer working with it and did not get performance pay," she said.
NDP Leader says government should apologize
Normally, public servants receive their performance pay in the summer, but the government delayed the process until "the very last minute" in December, said Lemay.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair believes "it makes no sense" that "bonuses" were given out in this case.
"I think the government should apologize to Canadians for giving bonuses to the people who were responsible for the debacle of Phoenix," said Mulcair.
"This is the worst administrative debacle in living memory of the Canadian public administration. We have people who are responsible for this pay system who have been paid millions of dollars in bonuses."
He added that the Phoenix system "totally failed" and that it's "high time this was made a real priority."
'I still feel extremely bad'
When asked why any executives at all received performance pay during a time of emotional and financial hardship for public servants affected by Phoenix, Lemay said she and her colleagues "feel terrible when we hear about people who are suffering."
"I still feel extremely bad," said Lemay. "It hurts when we see people are hurting because of that."
She maintained that her departments lower-level executives work on many files separate from Phoenix and were evaluated on their work.
She stressed that the government is working around the clock to fix the Phoenix issues and has put in place support efforts including emergency salary advances, a system to reimburse workers for out of pocket expenses, and a call centre.
Lemay said Wednesday she believes no one has lost their job over the Phoenix rollout.