Conservatives took payroll training responsibilities away from Phoenix creator IBM

The Conservative government took payroll training responsibilities away from IBM in the lead up to the implementation of Phoenix. A lack of training has been cited as a root cause of the Phoenix fiasco.

Training problems have been pegged as a key cause of Phoenix fiasco

Former Public Works Minister Diane Finley, seen here in Halifax 2014, was responsible for the Phoenix project from 2013-15. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

As the federal government shaped its plan to modernize the public service payroll system, CBC News has learned that the former Conservative government took training duties away from IBM — the company that created the Phoenix program.

The move raises new questions about what led to the payroll fiasco, as problems with training have been listed as a key cause of Phoenix's troubled rollout. 

"Responsibility for training design and execution was transferred to the Crown in March 2014," said IBM spokeswoman Carrie Bendzsa.

The change was made at the request of the former government, Bendsza confirmed by email. 

Conservative MP Diane Finley was the minister of Public Works at the time and responsible for overseeing the modernization project from 2013 to 2015. Her office refused multiple requests for an interview.

The current Liberal government is accusing the Conservatives of cutting corners on training to save money. 

"There was a cost associated with training, and it was made clear to me that the Conservatives opted to go with the train-the-trainer model versus buying the IBM training approach. In this case, savings were prioritized before the project was fully implemented‎," Judy Foote, the current minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada, said in a statement. 

"It appears that when the previous government decided to go with Phoenix, the proper training wasn't done and they tried to implement a system without a sufficient number of employees," she added.

Liberals should have hit pause, MP says

While the Conservatives did not have an explanation as to why the decision was made, they blame the current government for not slowing down the rollout of Phoenix, which started this past February.

"If they weren't ready and they knew about it … why would you go ahead and start the system if you're now saying that you knew the training was insufficient?" said Kelly McCauley, the Conservative critic of Public Services and Procurement.

"It goes back to, you knew it wasn't ready to implement, so why would you?"

Since the Phoenix system was fully implemented in April, more than 80,000 public servants have experienced problems with their pay. Most workers have been underpaid, while some have been over paid, or not paid at all.

The Department of Public Services and Procurement Canada has promised to clear the backlog of problems by the end of October. As of Sept. 21, there were still 57,500 public servants waiting for individual cases to be resolved. 

The government estimates it will cost $50 million to fix the program, which was originally touted as a way to save the federal treasury $70 million annually. 

Union 'not surprised'

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union representing federal public servants, expressed frustration over this latest development.

"I'm very disappointed but not surprised at all," said PSAC National Vice-President Chris Aylward. "[There's] no regard for the employees who have to perform those duties. No regard for the employees going on that new pay system."

Chris Aylward, the national executive vice-president of the President of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says he's disappointed with the Phoenix training issue. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

At a labour board tribunal hearing earlier this month, a senior bureaucrat explained that training problems are at the root of the Phoenix issue. 

"We underestimated the time it took people to adapt to the new technology. The learning curve just seemed to be much longer that we expected," said Rosanna Di Paola, the associate assistant deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada.


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