Politics

Minister warns IBM's reputation is at risk over Phoenix pay debacle

The president of the Treasury Board is warning IBM that it's reputation is at risk because of the Phoenix pay system debacle. The technology giant sold the government of Canada the payroll program that has caused pay problems for tens of thousands of public servants.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison says IBM has a 'responsibility' to help fix Phoenix payroll system

Treasury Board President Scott Brison says IBM needs to recognize that it has a vested interest in working with the government to fix the Phoenix pay system. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

A senior cabinet minister is warning IBM that its reputation is at risk because of the troubled Phoenix pay system, and that it has a responsibility to help the government fix the program.

Treasury Board President Scott Brison made the pointed comments during an appearance at the Senate's finance committee, where he was asked for an update on the payroll program.

"IBM, as a sophisticated global company, needs to recognize that we as the government of Canada are not just an important client ... but there is reputational risk for IBM in not helping us fix this," Brison said Thursday morning.

"IBM needs to be an active partner working closely with us. They have, as the vendor of this technology, a responsibility to help us fix this," Brison added.

After the meeting, the minister downplayed the tone of his comments. When asked directly if IBM was not co-operating with the government, Brison said "we're working with everyone, all hands on deck... and as the provider we are working with IBM of course."

In a brief response to Brison's comments, IBM spokesperson Carrie Bendsza told CBC News in an email that "IBM continues to work in close collaboration with the Crown on this project."

No timeline for a fix

Since Ottawa implemented its new payroll program in February of 2016, tens of thousands of public servants have been underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all.

Despite the federal government hiring dozens of new staffers and throwing more than $400 million at the issue, the Phoenix system still does not work properly. 

There is no timeline as to when the system will function as intended.

"My message to all partners in this, including private sector players like IBM is that we need to work together, and we need to apply our resources to fixing this," Brison told the committee.

"IBM needs to recognize that they have a vested interest in working closely with the government of Canada and helping us fix this."

Blame game continues

Despite insisting this is not a time for finger pointing, Brison used his Senate appearance to blame the Conservative government for creating the Phoenix payroll mess. 

"The previous government, in the attempt to create a surplus on the eve of an election, they tried to cut costs wherever they could," Brison said.

"You don't try to cut costs during an IT transformation. That goes for business or government."

In the lead up to the roll out of Phoenix, the previous government laid off 700 compensation advisors, as the new system relies heavily on self-serve automation. 

The Conservatives have criticized the Liberals for rolling out the program when it was not ready.

About the Author

Katie Simpson is a senior reporter in the Parliamentary Bureau of CBC News. Prior to joining the CBC, she spent nearly a decade in Toronto covering local and provincial issues.

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