New Brunswick

Pay centre union says it raised alarm about Phoenix system at 'very top'

In a second report released by Auditor General Michael Ferguson, three unnamed executives were more focused on meeting the project budget and timeline than on what the system needed to do.

Public Service Alliance of Canada says it warned of problems but decision-makers didn't listen

Auditor General Michael Ferguson said it will still take years to fix the Phoenix payroll system and it will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. (Ron Ward/Canadian Press)

The Public Service Alliance of Canada agrees with Canada's auditor general that Ottawa needs to learn a lesson from the Phoenix payroll debacle or risk another "incomprehensible failure."

In his second report on the beleaguered system, released Tuesday,  Auditor General Michael Ferguson said three unnamed executives at Public Services and Procurement Canada, Phoenix executives, were more focused on meeting the project budget and timeline than on what the system needed to do.

"In our opinion, they had received more than enough information and warning that Phoenix was not ready to be implemented, and therefore, they should not have proceeded as planned," said the report.

The union, which represents workers at the federal payroll centre in Miramichi, said it was clear the launch shouldn't happen when it did and raised those concerns directly with the minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada as well as Treasury Board.

"At that level, they all knew," said Colleen Coffey, the union's Atlantic regional executive vice-president.

"But they didn't believe the union. What can I say? They didn't listen."

Ferguson said the civil service needs to examine its culture — a culture that somehow discouraged or quashed discussion around stopping or delaying the project until it could be tested and fixed.

"And really, the government needs to stand back and look at that," said Ferguson.

Colleen Coffey of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said the federal government had more than enough information indicating Phoenix shouldn't be launched as planned. (Rachel Cave/CBC )

"Because if we don't change anything else, why would we not expect there to be another incomprehensible failure in the future?"

Coffey said Ottawa has hired more people to help manage the backlog of payroll mistakes that still need correction.

But it's still not enough to replace the payroll advisers who did not transfer to Miramichi, she said.

The union says it was clear the system wasn't ready and raised concerns directly with some top federal officials. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

One of the members of the auditor general's audit team said Tuesday that expected efficiences in New Brunswick never did materialize but instead, performance got worse.

"There was an expectation from Phoenix executives that compensation advisers in Miramichi would be able to handle a specific number of pay files," said Jean Goulet.

"Before Phoenix, before consolidation, they were handling about 184 pay files," said Goulet.

He says that was supposed to increase to 400 pay files after Phoenix was implemented.

"In reality, that went down from 184 to 150," said Goulet.

Inadequate training was partly to blame, he added.

Ferguson said it will still take years to fix the Phoenix payroll system and it will likely cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.