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Senior executives overseeing pay system no longer on Phoenix file: minister

Minister of Public Services Judy Foote answers a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Dec. 10, 2015.


Four senior executives who helped launch the federal government's troubled civil service pay system are no longer working for Public Services and Procurement Canada and didn't receive any bonus pay, the minister responsible for the Phoenix system said Wednesday.

Judy Foote made the statement just hours after the deputy minister responsible for the file said senior executives in the department could still collect bonuses once a review of what went wrong with the pay system is complete.

"None of the senior executive who worked on the Phoenix system are still working on it and none of them received any executive bonus pay," Foote said as she left the House of Commons.

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Foote would not say whether the executives were fired, instead repeating that "they are not working with the department."

She also could not confirm whether the four were now working in other departments, or if they would be receiving bonuses elsewhere in government.

Opposition MPs called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to apologize for the debacle after Foote's deputy minister, Marie Lemay, acknowledged some lower-level executives received performance pay last year, even though thousands of government workers weren't properly paid.

Documents tabled this week in the House of Commons show the department paid 340 executives nearly $5-million in bonuses and performance pay over the last fiscal year.

In response to a question from Conservative MP Kelly McCauley, Liberal parliamentary secretary Steve MacKinnon told the House that $4,827,913 was paid out to executives in the department, with most of them receiving payments in December.

That did not include general wage increases that had already been scheduled to come into effect Jan. 1.

The average payment amount was $14,199.74 between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016, according to MacKinnon.

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McCauley said he was "disgusted" by the revelation.

"I don't believe the money should be paid out for anyone remotely part of the Phoenix system. End of story."

But only a handful of the executives – as many as 10 – would have been working on Phoenix, Lemay said as she defended the raises.

"If we didn't have all these people working right now, since then, I don't know where we'd be," she said. "We have a team of extremely dedicated public servants that are working – again – day, night, weekends to get this through."

While top executives in charge of the project have not received performance pay, they could still receive it once a Treasury Board review of the Phoenix system is complete, likely by summer, she added, making no mention of executives losing their jobs.

"What we did is we took the senior level executives and we've actually not given the performance pay," she said.

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"We said we would wait until we have the review. For the lower level executives, we looked at all of them and assessed them accordingly."

Public servants who are paid extra based on performance normally receive the top-ups in the summer, but the government delayed the process until "the very last minute" in December, said Lemay.

The auditor general is currently also reviewing the pay system problems, which at their peak affected about 82,000 government employees who were underpaid, overpaid, or not paid at all – in some cases for months.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair called it outrageous that anyone involved with the pay system would receive a bonus and called on the prime minister to apologize.

"Mr. Trudeau last summer said that he was wearing this personally, that he assumed full responsibility," Mulcair noted.

"So you had women who are unable to get their maternity leave paid. You have families who were unable to pay their mortgages. You have students who worked all summer who didn't get paid and were unable to pay their tuition come fall.

"And these people are now getting bonuses? I mean, come on, it makes no sense."

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents over 57,000 federally and provincially employed scientists and professionals, echoed Mulcair.

Daviau called the bonuses were particularly "heinous" given the continuing problems plaguing Phoenix.

"It just seems absurd that anybody would be eligible for performance pay under these circumstances."

Officials did say Wednesday that parental leave pay requests by public servants are now being handled at what is considered a normal rate – within 20 working days.

Disability pay requests, however, are still being handled too slowly and the number of pay transactions that were still awaiting processing for more than 20 days remained virtually stagnant since early March at about 284,000, representing a nearly three-month backlog.

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