Ottawa MPs inundated with pleas from Phoenix victims

Ottawa-area MPs say they're being inundated by requests for help from constituents whose personal finances are in ruins thanks to the Phoenix payroll meltdown.

Pierre Poilievre calling for dedicated unit to respond to Phoenix complaints brought forward by MPs

DND employee Susan Skaarup called her MP to get help with her Phoenix pay mess, but so far hasn't seen her problems resolved. (CBC)

Susan Skaarup is one of the thousands of federal government workers caught up in the stressful, ugly confusion caused by the failure of the Phoenix pay system. 

Skaarup's personal nightmare began in August 2016 when the Department of National Defence employee was overpaid tens of thousands of dollars. Then, thanks to improper tax filings by her department, she was overpaid by the Canada Revenue Agency.

When the Phoenix system attempted to correct the error, she was first underpaid, then stopped receiving her salary altogether.

Skaarup's patience finally ran out when pay centre employees withdrew money directly from her payroll account. That's when she turned to her Member of Parliament in a last-ditch attempt to get her mess resolved.

"It keeps me awake at night," said Skaarup. "I was hoping with the member of Parliament putting pressure on the minister, something might be done."
Karen McCrimmon, MP for Kanata-Carleton, said her office is prioritizing the most dire Phoenix cases. (CBC)

MPs inundated with pay complaints

Skaarup's not alone in seeking out help from her elected representative.

A large number of public servants, especially in the National Capital Region where the federal government is the biggest employer, are likewise turning to their MPs in the hopes of getting their pay problems resolved.

For Skaarup, it hasn't worked.

They're still worried, and they have a right to be worried, because they deserve the right pay.- MP Karen McCrimmon

"There's been no help from Karen McCrimmon's office," she said.

McCrimmon, the Liberal MP for Kanata-Carleton, said her office is becoming inundated with the broad spectrum of Phoenix complaints pouring in from constituents.

"They're still worried, and they have a right to be worried, because they deserve the right pay," said McCrimmon, who added her office is trying to triage the glut of files to deal with what she calls the "hardship, duress cases" first.

As dire as Skaarup's situation is, it appears she hasn't made that list yet, indicating there are others worse off.

'It's been a disaster'

In Orléans, a suburb densely packed with federal public servants, MP Andrew Leslie said his office has staffers who are now dedicated to sorting out Phoenix calls.
'It's been a disaster,' admits Orléans MP Andrew Leslie, whose counts thousands of federal public servants among his constituents. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

"It's been a disaster. It's been painful progress," said Leslie. "We continue to raise pressure on us, the government, to do all it can to fix it."

That pressure from her caucus colleagues means Minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada Carla Qualtrough is now getting it from all sides.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre said his riding office in south Ottawa is also being bombarded with requests from constituents for help with pay issues.

"We're pressuring the government to solve it as soon as possible," said Poilievre. "At any given time we have dozens of active cases. My case worker deals with problems related to Phoenix every day."

Putting politics aside

While it was the previous Conservative government that set the stage for Phoenix and hired the contractors to build it, Poilievre is quick to note it was the Liberals who "pulled the trigger" to mobilize the new pay system before it was ready.

Poilievre said he's willing to put politics aside to work with the government to solve individual cases for his constituents.
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre is calling on the government to create a special team to deal with Phoenix cases forwarded by MPs. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

"I do congratulate the minister for having a staffer who answers phone calls when we place them. But I'd respectfully suggest we need more support for MPs to solve the problems of constituents related to Phoenix," Poilievre said.

"I would encourage Minister Qualtrough and other ministers to perhaps dedicate a unit of public servants who'll respond to concerns brought forward by Members of Parliament," said Poilievre. "It might be one simple way to expedite some of the problems that public servants are having."

Gatineau MP Steve MacKinnon, parliamentary secretary to the minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, said he receives a "pretty steady volume" of calls from both constituents and others across Canada who are looking to speak directly to a representative from the department. 

MacKinnon said catastrophic or urgent cases are brought to the attention of the department first, but he understands the patience of everyone affected by Phoenix is being tested. 

"If I were in some of these situations I would also be impatient," MacKinnon said. "We understand all that, it helps to animate and fuel our motivation to get this problem solved."

While she waits for that to happen, Susan Skaarup has had to put travel and retirement plans on hold. She realizes it could take months or even years for her pay, benefits, pension deductions and taxes to return to normal.