Phoenix pay system executives got $5M in bonuses last year

Marie Lemay. Photo from CBC

Department executives overseeing the problem-plagued Phoenix pay system received nearly $5 million in “performance pay” last year, according to documents tabled in the House of Commons this week.

The documents, tabled in response to a written question by Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, revealed the $4,827,913 in bonuses were split among 340 executives at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), with the average bonus of $14,199.74, according to Global News.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair has already criticized the government for the bonuses. “I think the government should apologize to Canadians for giving bonuses to the people responsible for the debacle at Phoenix,” he said in a press conference, in the face of a continuing backlog of payroll problems across the country.

“Women who weren’t able to get their maternity leave, students who weren’t paid for a whole summer’s work, people who can’t pay their mortgages and they’re giving themselves bonuses? Come on.”

The Phoenix pay system debacle resulted in some of the worst payroll mixups in recent years as at least 80,000 federal employees were overpaid, underpaid or, in some cases, not paid at all.

Deputy Minister Marie Lemay was unclear when accounting for which executives associated with Phoenix had received bonuses, saying that not all the executive who received bonuses had been working on the payroll system. However, she confirmed that some of those who received bonuses worked on issues linked to the pay system.

“Executives who received performance pay are executives who are at a lower level, and these are people who are not necessarily 100 per cent dedicated to the project…it’s a part of their work and these people were all evaluated as such,” she said.

But Lemay also said that there were “under 10 people, maybe even five strictly dedicated to that [Phoenix],” who did receive bonuses.

Furthermore, the top executives in charge of Phoenix did not receive any performance pay last year, she said. But they may belatedly receive bonuses following the completion of fixes to the payment system and the conducting of a review in the spring and summer.

According to Global News, there was little else revealed beyond the documents tabled by the government. A request by Conservative MP McCauley to provide more detailed information on the executives, such as the payout dates, the branch and region they worked in, and the greatest amount received by any one executive was rebuffed. The government said it was withholding those answers “on the grounds that the information constitutes personal information.”

Since problems with Phoenix started, it has cost $50 million to correct the system’s faults — a figure that is expected to rise in the coming year. The Liberal government has linked the fiasco to the previous Conservative government taking away job training responsibilities from IBM, the company that built the program. IBM indeed confirmed that training responsibilities were taken over by the Crown as early as March 2014, according to a company spokesperson.

Phoenix is expected to produce cost savings once the backlogs and other problems have been resolved. In the meantime, Lemay has said she felt terrible about the disruptions federal employees have suffered as a result of the backlog. “I still feel extremely bad,” she said. “It hurts when we see people are hurting because of that.”