Bell Canada must 'honour' commitment to modernize email system, government says

Overdue by more than two years, there's still no word on when Bell Canada will make good on a $245-million contract to modernize the government's email system.

2 years after original due date for email changes, less than 15% of federal workforce on new system

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, says many of her members continue to report regular email outages and other issues. (Ashley Burke/CBC News)

Overdue by more than two years, there's still no word on when Bell Canada will make good on a $245-million contract to modernize the government's email system.

"The vendor, Bell Canada, has yet to deliver the complete email service with all business features required by the contract," a spokesperson for Shared Services Canada told CBC News. "Shared Services Canada expects Bell Canada to honour its obligations and deliver the complete email service." 

Shared Services Canada (SSC) is the federal government's central tech support agency. 

In June 2013, SSC awarded a contract to Bell to move 550,000 mailboxes from 63 separate email systems to a uniform email address ending with @canada.ca. The transformation promised to make the email system more secure, efficient and easier for Canadians to access government services while saving taxpayers $50 million a year.

Those benefits aren't even on the horizon.

"Fewer than 15 per cent of government employees are using the new system today," the spokesperson said.

Bell won't answer questions

"We never discuss specifics of our business or government contracts except with our customers, so I would refer you to Shared Services," Bell communications director Marc Choma wrote in an emailed response to CBC News.

Initially, the email transformation project, which was scheduled to be completed by March 2015, was put on hold due to hardware problems. The rollout resumed but then then sputtered out in the spring of 2016 due to "functional issues."

Since then, SSC has stopped providing new targets for the resumption of email migrations.

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said Bell has let everyone down. The government never should have outsourced the project, she said, because her members have the expertise to do it. 

"We built and maintained these systems for 40 to 50 years. It's not like we haven't proven our ability to do so. We did it when it was really, really hard," she said.

Bell Canada was awarded the contract to move 550,000 mailboxes from 63 separate email systems into a uniform email address ending with @canada.ca. The work was supposed to be done by March 2015. (iStock)

When asked if there's a final date for Bell to complete its work, SSC responded that the contract with the telecom expires in June 2020.

In the meantime, Daviau said many of her members continue to report regular email outages and specific difficulties communicating with protected email formats.

It's getting less attention though, she says, due to the ongoing fiasco with the Phoenix public service payment system.

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