As MP 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 government.
Despite objections from public service employees, their union representatives, and departments such as Health Canada and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Liberal government decided to roll out Phoenix 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 percent of the 22,375 federal employees in B.C. have experienced pay problems since the Liberals decided to implement Phoenix.
In my riding, over 1,000 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 Nicole Gervais. She has been working for Service Canada as a benefits officer for Old Age Security for 27 years. As a single parent she has tried to work hard and manage her finances and was able to get a mortgage on a house in Sooke.
In 2016 she agreed to temporarily take on a higher role at work. However, instead of getting a bump in pay, the Phoenix pay system actually decreased her pay and removed her financial bonus for being bilingual.
From one pay period to the next, she never knew what she was going to receive. Every month she had to decide which to pay: her mortgage or utility bills. A planned family vacation was cancelled.
Eventually, Nicole’s daughter had to quit her languages program at Camosun College. Even though her daughter had a part-time job and her and Nicole were trying to make it work, they decided together that they just couldn’t go further in to debt if they didn’t know if it would ever be able to be repaid.
“It was a very difficult discussion to have with my daughter,” Nicole told me, “but we both agreed that first and foremost we had to keep the roof over our heads.”
I don’t think anyone who has been working in the public service for 27 years should be asking those questions.
Nicole’s story is emblematic of many others in Sooke. It is important that as the Member of Parliament, I do everything in my power to help those affected. 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 more than 1,000 more cases pending in my riding.
In 2016, the Liberals claimed that the Phoenix pay system was going to save Canadian taxpayers $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’s 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 New Democrat MP for Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.