Mr. Speaker, I rise to discuss the Phoenix payroll system, which has burdened federal employees in our country for well over a year now. People who are delivering important public services all across Canada continue to be paid incorrectly and to have problems accessing benefits. This is really a travesty.
If we look at the advanced economies around the world, their national governments are able to pay their workers correctly and on time. Provincial and municipal governments in Canada do not seem to have a problem with this, so it is really quite an embarrassment that our federal government still has not fixed the Phoenix payroll system.
This program started out as a Conservative scheme to cut costs and cut corners by merging the payroll systems that existed in different departments and agencies. There were a couple of major flaws with the idea. One was the notion that this new centralized payroll system could be run using off-the-shelf software from IBM. Another mistake was to locate the new pay centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick. The only reason it was put there was to replace the jobs that were lost when that former government eliminated the firearms centre. It was not put there because there was a population there that had expertise in managing federal government payrolls. We had the Government of Canada laying off people who had experience in federal payrolls and moving this new centre to Miramichi for political reasons.
The current Liberal government rushed ahead with the implementation of Phoenix, despite many indications of problems and despite many warnings that the system was not ready to go. The government had to admit this summer that there were some 80,000 public servants who had been paid incorrectly or not at all.
The federal government set for itself a deadline of October 31, 2016, to fix Phoenix. That seemed like a long time. However, that deadline came and went, then the end of the year came and went. As a result, many federal employees received incorrect tax information. Some 50,000 T4 slips had to be recalled as a result of Phoenix problems.
That original backlog has not totally been cleaned up. Worse yet, there are more Phoenix cases cropping up every day. Indeed, there are some 280,000 payroll cases currently that have been in a queue for three weeks or more.
The government's solution to this has been to appoint this dream team of half a dozen Liberal cabinet ministers to tackle Phoenix. I hope this is an indication that the government is finally taking it seriously. I hope that it will not lead to a situation where none of these ministers are actually responsible for what happens. I think that is one of the risks with a committee of six people.
I am hoping that we will receive some clearer answers from the parliamentary secretary this evening. I also hope that he will finally provide an answer to the question I asked a couple of months ago about setting up a dedicated phone line for MPs' offices to deal with Phoenix so that at least we, as parliamentarians, can help our many constituents who have been impacted by these payroll problems.