Judy Foote says 'there was no going back' at time of Phoenix launch
Public services minister says she received repeated assurances the system was ready in April, despite concerns
The minister responsible for modernizing the government's payroll told a House of Commons committee she received repeated assurances that the Phoenix system was ready to go when it fully launched in the spring, but declined to say who gave her those assurances.
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The government rolled out the payroll system to some 120,000 federal employees in February, and despite urgings from the public service unions to delay the full launch, the government rolled out the system to the entire public service in April.
Speaking before her fellow MPs with the government operations and estimates committee, Minister of Public Services and Procurement Judy Foote said she decided to go ahead with the launch because it was no longer possible to run both the old and new systems concurrently.
"I'm not prepared to say we rushed into it, because I know I repeatedly asked questions," said Foote. "But the reality was when asked the question of if we … could go back to the other [older] system, I was told no."
'We could not run both simultaneously'
Foote said the previous Conservative government's decision to lay off hundreds of compensation advisers across the country and consolidate payroll operations in Miramichi, N.B., as well as changing over to the Phoenix system beginning in February, meant keeping the old system was not an option.
"I was told there was no going back," said Foote.
But when the government moved ahead with the full implementation of Phoenix, "it was with the understanding that we were ready to do so," Foote said.
"It doesn't matter who told me what, but the reality is all those questions were asked and what we have to do now is fix the system so there are no public service employees going without pay for time worked," she said.
After Phoenix launched across the country, employees — particularly students, short-term workers and those on parental leave — began reporting pay problems. By July, the government acknowledged more than 80,000 public servants have experienced some pay problems, with the majority being underpaid, while some have been overpaid or not paid at all.
Backlog of cases at 67,500
Foote said the backlog from June was down to 67,500 cases, and she assured the committee it would be eliminated by Oct. 31, though that wouldn't include new cases that appeared since June.
"I am as on top of this as you would expect me to and want me to," she told NDP critic Erin Weir. "I have no reason not to believe [we will meet the deadline] based on the information given."
Both Weir and Conservative members of the committee questioned Foote on whether any managers involved in the Phoenix rollout would be receiving bonuses this year, with Conservative MP Kelly McCauley calling on her to declare that no bonuses would be paid out.
Foote declined to answer the question, saying the subject of bonuses was not on her mind.
Committee to meet again in October
Foote agreed to reconvene with the committee and provide another update sometime around the Oct. 31 deadline.
The government is also facing lawsuits over its implementation of the Phoenix pay system, and last week it had to defend itself at a four-day hearing in front of the Public Service Labour Relations Board.
The hearing came after the Public Service Alliance of Canada filed a complaint arguing the Treasury Board of Canada broke the law by not paying public servants accurately or on time.