25 September 2023

CANADA: Blame continues over Phoenix failure

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The head of Canada’s Public Service says it is up to Parliament to decide whether there is a need to ease restrictions on the sacking of Public Servants.

Clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick’s statement came in the midst of a new debate over who is to blame for the Phoenix pay system failure that botched the pay of tens of thousands of PS employees.

Mr Wernick said it was extremely difficult to fire someone in the Public Service below the Deputy Minister level for poor performance, as they were protected by the Public Service Employment Act.

“I think Parliamentarians in both chambers might want to take a look at that and see if that’s creating the right incentives and disincentives for a high-performing organisation,” Mr Wernick said.

“That’s a big project. It would be very messy and controversial.”

He said the termination issue had been a concern of his for years and denied that the Phoenix pay scandal put the matter on his radar.

In a scathing report, Auditor-General, Michael Ferguson (pictured) blamed three senior officers at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC), which is responsible for Phoenix, for the failure.

He said they did not tell the Deputy Minister at the time about the known problems with Phoenix, leading the Department to launch it despite clear warnings it was not ready.

It was recently revealed that the three Phoenix PS staff were not dismissed for mismanagement of the system.

Mr Wernick’s comments are the latest in a back-and-forth between his ffice and the Auditor-General’s, whose report called the Phoenix pay system an “incomprehensible failure” indicative of “pervasive cultural problems”.

Mr Wernick called Mr Ferguson’s report an “opinion piece”, saying the Auditor-General went beyond his mandate of making sure the Government’s financial books were clean.

However, Mr Ferguson has not backed down from his assertions, saying his report had sparked a much-needed conversation about the Public Service.

Ottawa, 22 June 2018

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