More than 1,600 student workers at Parks Canada all paid improperly by Phoenix system

Parks Canada confirms that all of its student employees experienced problems with pay this past summer due to the government's new Phoenix payroll system. CBC News first learned of the troubling statistic after obtaining weekly briefing notes about the software program.

'Phoenix would automatically input students at the lowest possible pay level,' email reveals

Weekly briefing notes show that all of the student workers at Parks Canada, responsible for federal parks like Jasper Park in Alberta, experienced pay problems this summer after the rollout of the Phoenix payroll system. (CBC)

Every single student employee at Parks Canada this past summer experienced pay problems related to the federal government's Phoenix payroll system.

The agency confirms that all 1,659 student workers were improperly paid between July 11 and Aug. 26.

"At that time, all 1,659 students had one or more reported pay issues," said Natalie Fay, chief of media relations at Parks Canada. 

CBC News first learned about the troubling statistic after obtaining a series of weekly updates on Phoenix through an access-to-information request. 

Since Phoenix was rolled out, more than 80,000 public servants have been overpaid, underpaid or not paid at all.

An email obtained separately by CBC News provides some context about the kinds of pay challenges student workers faced.

"Phoenix would automatically input students at the lowest possible pay level," Jesse Fleming, chief of staff and corporate secretary at Parks Canada, said in a message to Kyle Harrietha, director of parliamentary affairs and issues management at the environment minister's office.

"This was a systemic issue with the software," Fleming wrote, which led to students being paid at the wrong rate. 

The July 11 email says the rate issue was corrected, but other problems emerged, including "administrative errors by students or Parks [Canada] in filling out paperwork, technical issues within Phoenix, [and] extra duty pay not being treated as a priority by [Public Services and Procurement Canada]." 

Parks Canada was working with the students and PSPC "to resolve these issues both on a systemic and case-by-case basis," Fleming wrote.

Slow resolution

A PSPC spokesman said assistance was made available to the Parks Canada students.

"Like all federal employees, students had, and continue to have, access to emergency salary advances," Pierre-Alain Bujold told CBC in an email.

The weekly briefings also show a slow resolution of issues for some student workers. After six weeks of no progress, nearly 150 students had their problems fixed by Sept. 2. 

The number of outstanding cases continued to shrink until the week of Nov. 4 — the last briefing obtained by CBC News. It shows 475 students were still experiencing problems at that time.

PSPC said it is currently aware of 51 student cases from Parks Canada that are still open and need to be resolved. 


Katie Simpson is a foreign correspondent with CBC News based in Washington. Prior to joining the team in D.C. she spent six years covering Parliament Hill in Ottawa and nearly a decade covering local and provincial issues in Toronto.

With files from Dean Beeby