As the Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, my office has been inundated with heart wrenching stories of federal employees in our community whose lives have been turned upside-down because of the Phoenix pay system implemented by the federal Liberal government.
Despite objections from public service employees and their union representatives, the Liberal government decided to roll out the Phoenix pay system in 2016 – knowing full well that there remained a host of unresolved issues with the program.
According to data that NDP MP Karine Trudel has been able to get from the government, 78% of the 22,375 federal employees in British Columbia have experienced pay problems since the Liberals decided to implement Phoenix.
In my riding alone, over a thousand federal employees have experienced issues with the pay system. Many have been forced to max-out their credit cards, dip into retirement savings, or incur late fees because they are waiting on their hard-earned paycheques.
One of those people is Rosanne.
Rosanne lives with her retired husband in Saanich and has been has been working for Service Canada as a Benefits Officer for Old Age Security for 17 years. In 2016 she enrolled in an pathway to retirement program that was supposed to allow her to work for three days a week for her final two years of employment.
That’s when the problems began.
Very quickly, she noticed that Phoenix was continuing to pay her at a full-time rate. Then, without warning, she received almost nothing on a single pay cheque as the system tried to collected all the overpay at once. From one pay period to the next, she never knew what she was going to receive. Meanwhile, she never received thousands of dollars of back-pay that she was owed.
Rosanne is supposed to retire by the end of February. Now she is concerned about finalizing the process as she knows that would put her at the end of the list of hundreds of thousands of Phoenix cases across the country – and her situation may never be resolved.
Rosanne’s story is emblematic of hundreds of others in Saanich. I have countless stories of lighthouse technicians, DFO and DND employees, and Service Canada staff all trying to continue to serve Canadians while their lives are up-ended because of Phoenix. Some have even had to quit because they couldn’t continue to pay bills. Others have had to pull their kids out of Camosun College because they could no longer afford the tuition fees.
My office has been doing what it can for individual cases, while the NDP has been repeatedly demanding that the Liberal government take action to fix the debacle.
In the fall, I took three particularly egregious cases directly to parliamentary committee and the House of Commons and, after several months of hounding, I finally embarrassed the Liberal ministers in to action. I am glad these three civilian DND employees may soon have their issues resolved, however, this is not an acceptable manner in which to address the over one thousand more cases pending in my riding.
In 2016, the Liberals claimed that the Phoenix pay system was going to save Canadian tax payers $70 million a year. Now, the minister responsible for this file has not ruled out the possibility that the costs of this fiasco will surpass $1 billion and still she has no deadline to fix it.
It is time that the Liberals recognize their failure and – in collaboration with employees and their unions – consider a plan B that either allocates significant additional resources or a different payroll system that does not include Phoenix.
Randall Garrison is the NDP Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.