New Brunswick

Ottawa committed to keeping Phoenix payroll centre in Miramichi, says MP

The federal government is committed to keeping the beleaguered payroll centre in Miramichi, N.B., according to the local member of Parliament.

Troubled system 'would not work better anywhere else,' Pat Finnigan says after prime minister visits employees

Miramichi-Grand Lake MP Pat Finnigan described having Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the payroll centre to talk to employees on Wednesday as 'a great day.' (CBC)

The federal government is committed to keeping the beleaguered payroll centre in Miramichi, N.B., according to the local member of Parliament.

"Absolutely," Miramichi-Grand Lake MP Pat Finnigan told CBC News, following a visit from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday.

"It never even came up because, you know, this would not work better anywhere else," said Finnigan.

"I mean … the hard-working people of Miramichi, they're the experts and they're going to solve the issues that we've seen in the past."

The office has been at the centre of the troubled Phoenix pay system, which has a backlog of 237,000 complaints from federal public servants who have been overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

Public service employees are three times more likely to see delays receiving their pay if it's processed through the Miramichi centre than at federal offices or institutions elsewhere in the country, Treasury Board documents obtained by Radio-Canada earlier this week showed.

The revelation came on the heels of a union leader's suggestion the centre should never have been put in the small New Brunswick city.

"I think it's clear it was a mistake to move it to Miramichi," said Greg McGillis, executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), prompting the mayor to demand a retraction and apology.

'People are really excited'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau smiled and waved to reporters after meeting with employees at the Miramichi payroll centre on Wednesday afternoon. (CBC)

Trudeau met with the Miramichi centre's employees behind closed doors on Wednesday afternoon, along with new Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough and Parliamentary Secretary of the Minister of Public Services and Procurement Steven MacKinnon.

Trudeau did not speak to reporters following the meeting, but Finnigan said it was "excellent" and "people are really excited."

"The commitment that it shows, you know, that the prime minister comes here [to] Miramichi … this is where we're going to do it, this is where we're going to solve the problem, so it was a great day."

Finnigan said the employees were smiling and feeling positive after the meeting with Trudeau and that many of them had their photograph taken with the prime minister.

"We're going to get it done, I have no doubt in my mind," he said.

Ottawa is now offering financial incentives to attract qualified employees to address the Phoenix program.

The Treasury Board made the announcement on Tuesday by news release, saying it will offer one-time payments of $4,000, temporarily increase overtime rates from time and a half to double-time and temporarily drop restrictions on the amount of vacation that compensation advisers can carry over.

"The resources are there, we've committed the resources and we'll do what it takes," said Finnigan.

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy

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