Episode 5: The Fallout


Following the launch of the Phoenix pay system, the Canadian government’s troubled payroll transformation became a major news story. In a scathing report, an auditor called the project “an incomprehensible failure.” Phoenix was a political football, and the question remained: Who will be held responsible for the system’s failures?

Episode 5 - Timestamps

(00.00) Politicians feel the heat

(01:35) Cabinet ministers respond

(03:27) Judy Foote: “Some glitches”

(06:03) James Bagnall: disbelief

(09:36) $50 million fix

(14:28) Questioning the Prime Minister

(17:45) Phoenix becomes the butt of jokes

(22:53) Auditor general: “An incomprehensible failure”


Former Auditor General Michael Ferguson appears before the House of Commons public accounts committee on Report 1, Building and Implementing the Phoenix Pay System, of the 2018 Spring Reports of the Auditor General on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 14, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/David Kawai

In the months after the launch of the Phoenix pay system, the Canadian government’s troubled payroll transformation evolved into a major news story. At first, the government suggested that Phoenix’s issues were simply glitches that would soon be resolved. But the pay system’s problems dragged on, and public servants’ horror stories kept piling up.

Reporters and politicians scrambled to determine who should take the blame for the growing backlog at the pay centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick. Phoenix became a political football as members of Canada’s two dominant political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals, disputed who was responsible. Heated debates erupted in the House of Commons and members of Parliament fielded pointed questions from journalists. Meanwhile, a government worker in New Brunswick took matters into her own hands. After losing money due to Phoenix’s problems, Roxanne Merrill Young organized a rally at the pay centre in Miramichi. She eventually brought her concerns to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a town hall, and she was met with sympathy but not the answers she’d hoped for.

As the search for accountability continued, then-auditor general Michael Ferguson released two scathing reports on Phoenix’s issues. Calling the project “an incomprehensible failure,” Ferguson told a parliamentary committee that “the decision to launch Phoenix was wrong.” One of his reports highlighted the actions of three executives who were in charge of Phoenix, revealing that these officials had decided to postpone or eliminate more than 100 critical pay functions in order to stay on budget. In a message prefacing the report, Ferguson pointed to a government culture that makes it difficult for public servants to tell hard truths and for managers to hear them. But while the auditor general’s reports offered some important lessons for the public service, the solution to Phoenix’s problems remained unclear.

credits phoenixed

Phoenixed: Inside Canada’s payroll disaster is produced by the Global Payroll Association and Storythings.

  • CEO, GPA: Melanie Pizzey
  • Reported and hosted by: Glen McGregor
  • Produced and edited by: Kevin Sexton
  • Research and fact-checking by: Tobin Ng
  • Sound design by: Xavier Paradis
  • Executive Producer, Storythings: Grace Dobush
  • Director, Storythings: Hugh Garry
  • Project management by Lyndsay Borgonon
  • Legal review by Ryan Keller
  • Art direction by Darren Garrett


Glen McGregor, host: Canadians have mixed attitudes about federal public servants: a bit of respect and a lot of envy. Government positions are often seen as cushy, with higher-than-average pay, great job security and generous benefits, including a pension plan that is coveted by many who work in the private sector.

So when a story about some government employees having problems with their paycheques started getting coverage by the national media, it didn’t seem all that compelling at first. But then, as complaints from workers grew into the tens and hundreds of thousands — like those made by people we heard from in the last episode — well, Phoenix was about to become a big problem for the bureaucrats who oversaw its implementation, and ultimately, a big problem for the politicians in charge. 

I’m Glen McGregor. I’ve been an investigative reporter in Ottawa for more than 25 years. This is Phoenixed: Inside Canada’s payroll disaster, produced by the Global Payroll Association and Storythings.

Chris Aylward: Nobody had, I guess, the authority or the gumption to say, “Let’s just stop this and start writing out cheques by hand.”

Roxanne Merrill Young: I want the prime minister to hear me. I said, “I'm not taking this sitting down anymore.”

Justin Trudeau [during Question Period in the House of Commons]: We did not create the Phoenix problem, Mr. Speaker, but we are going to fix it!

McGregor: Episode 5, “The Fallout.” By June of 2016, a few months after Phoenix launched, the horror stories were starting to pile up. Journalists who cover Canadian politics on Parliament Hill began putting questions to cabinet ministers in the Liberal government. At the time, a member of Parliament from Nova Scotia named Scott Brison was the president of the treasury board, which is the employer of record for most federal departments and agencies. Brison was on the defensive that day when reporters approached him outside the House of Commons chamber. 

[Soundbite of a media scrum after Question Period]

Scott Brison: There are issues we inherited from the previous government. We are addressing those issues proactively. And it’s absolutely important that they notify us immediately, and we will ensure that proper steps are taken to ensure that no public servant is unduly disadvantaged by this.

McGregor: One reporter asked: what about the union's suggestion to rehire some of the payroll workers to take care of the employees who were missing paycheques? 

[Soundbite of a media scrum after Question Period]

Brison: Yeah, there’s — if there’s somebody who has not received a cheque, they contact our government and we will address that. We are doing two things. One is to fix the issues around Phoenix, and my colleague Minister Foote is active on that, but the second is to help anyone with an individual case. We are — we have absolute empathy for any individual public servant who finds themselves in that situation. It’s unacceptable, and we will fix them. Thank you very much.

McGregor: But the accountability for Phoenix would rest with another cabinet minister, Judy Foote, who served as minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada. That’s the department that was responsible for developing the payroll system. In Parliament in mid-May 2016, she downplayed the extent of the problem.

[Soundbite of Question Period in the House of Commons]

Judy Foote: Phoenix is a new pay system that’s replacing a 40-year-old system. Yes, there are some glitches to be expected, but we are working very closely to make sure that every employee who deserves to be paid — and every employee deserves to be paid — is paid on time. Unfortunately, there are issues that we’re trying to resolve. We’re doing that, we’re putting extra resources into the system to respond to it. To date, we have had 1.4 million transactions. Of that, we have 77 outstanding issues. And we’re working very hard to deliver for all of our employees who deserve to be paid for the work that they’ve performed.

McGregor: Some glitches, she said. Only 77 outstanding issues out of 1.4 million transactions. But those numbers were wildly different from reports coming from the government workers’ labour unions. Unions like the Public Service Alliance of Canada that was scrambling to help its members correct their pay problems. The unions knew the extent of the problem was far greater. Chris Aylward is the national president of the Public Service Alliance. We heard from him in earlier episodes.

Aylward: Once we realized — or once we were told — we couldn't go back to the original pay system, that it was gone, we basically had to work — you know, do our best with something that was absolutely terrible. So yes, initially, it was like, “Okay, hopefully over the coming weeks, this is going to be, you know, we're going to work through this. And we're not gonna see any of these issues.” Unfortunately, that didn't happen. The issues kept getting worse and worse, actually. 

McGregor: Aylward says the bureaucrats who ran the ministries — although maybe not the politicians — were coming to understand how big the problem really was. 

Aylward: So, you know, the government officials, the deputy ministers, they realized that this was catastrophic. They weren't playing it down. They weren't like, “Look, Chris, don't worry, it's going to get better.” It's like, “Yeah, thanks for raising this because this is a — this is a nightmare.” So they realized what it was. But nobody had, I guess, the authority or the gumption to say, “Let's just stop. Let's just stop this and start writing out cheques by hand.” Because the old spreadsheets and that, it wasn't working. It wasn't, you know, making that connection with the pay system. And they were literally handwriting out calculations, individual calculations of people's pay, you know, writing them out on a piece of paper. It’s — it was crazy.

McGregor: So crazy that, initially, senior leadership in government — including the politicians — didn't believe it. Here’s journalist James Bagnall.

James Bagnall: Basically, there's disbelief at first. “The information we're getting, it can't be right. It can't be this bad. It can't be this many mistakes.” And there were. And so there's panic coming down from cabinet to the department responsible. But basically, they were nowhere for months. 

McGregor: Government officials scrambled to put together a quick fix. They set up satellite pay offices in various locations across the country to help the staff at the pay centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick work through the growing backlog of pay requests. The Ottawa Citizen reported that one of the offices was set up in the Place du Portage complex we visited in the first episode. To staff these satellite offices, the government decided it would try to rehire some of the payroll workers who had been moved into other jobs or laid off altogether.  

Bagnall: The other thing they tried to do was to reach back to all the former public servants that they fired, or let go, who are experts, and say, “We need you again, can you please help us out?” Then they would set up these emergency offices around the country, staffed with former pay administrators to sort through, by hand, what had gone wrong with the Phoenix pay system. I mean, it was bedlam.

So effectively, you had two different sets of pay administrators, the old and the new. They had to collaborate, and that collaboration wasn't going well either. And at the same time, you've got tens of thousands of new pay requests coming every week and they had to be dealt with by hand, because you couldn't just reinsert them back into the system and have it done automatically.

McGregor: The government set the end of October 2016 as a target date to right the ship. But that date came and went with no real resolution. The backlog of pay requests kept growing. Angry workers came to Parliament Hill to demonstrate in front of the prime minister’s office. Inside the House of Commons that day, a member of Parliament from Saskatchewan asked the minister responsible, Judy Foote: when will Phoenix be fixed?

[Soundbite of Question Period in the House of Commons]

Sheri Benson: Hundreds of public employees spent their lunch protesting in front of the prime minister's office, demanding to be paid. Why did the government miss its own deadline, and can they tell us when exactly all the Phoenix cases will be dealt with once and for all?

Geoff Regan: Ah, well, Minister of Public Services and Procurement.

Foote: We are working very hard to make sure that all of the outstanding issues are resolved. We have resolved 75% of the outstanding cases. We are going to put a dedicated team to look at the complex issues that remain. And those that remain are much more complex, some going back three years, Mr. Speaker, in terms of the length of time that these employees have been without pay for services performed. It is totally unacceptable.

We are putting extra measures in place; we have done so. We’ve hired an additional 250 employees to deal with these cases. We are throwing everything we have at this because, again, we want to make sure that now, the most complex cases get resolved; because we have resolved three-quarters of those that were outstanding.

McGregor: The government was beginning to realize that fixing Phoenix was going to be harder than they thought. It was also going to be expensive. Reporters had asked Minister Foote about the costs.

[Soundbite of a media scrum after Question Period]

Unidentified reporter #1: $50 million is what was budgeted to deal with this issue with Phoenix. Can you assure Canadian taxpayers that you will not surpass the $50 million figure?

Foote: Right now, the $50 million is the number that we're looking at and we feel comfortable with, based on the analysis that's been done to date.

Unidentified reporter #1: So you're willing to say that it will not go above $50 million?

Foote: What I'm saying is that $50 million, based on the outlook in terms of what we're expected to do, will be sufficient.

McGregor: $50 million. That was a major underestimate. As we heard in the last episode, many public servants were frustrated by the response — or lack of response — they got to their concerns about Phoenix. One determined government worker took her frustrations directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Merrill Young: My name is Roxanne Merrill Young, and I'm currently a homemaker right at the moment, unemployed.

McGregor: Roxanne had taken on some seasonal work at a military base in Oromocto, New Brunswick. 

Merrill Young: It's called fording. When the army would go in with their tanks on the black tracks, we'd go in and fix the streams and the brooks and that. I really loved it. It was a great job. It was — we're outside all day. It was in my element, you know?

McGregor: She had already done the job before, with no pay issues. It was in 2016 when Phoenix problems first cropped up.

Merrill Young: When you first start a job like that, it's about 6 weeks before you get your first paycheque. Well, 6 weeks went into 8 weeks, went into 10 weeks, went into whatever. We used to have a local HR department that we could go to, you know, that they would handle anything like that there. But when Phoenix kicked in, they shut all that down. Our HR was still there in some capacity — they were trying to be the bandaid, like in between — but their hands were really tied as far as what they could do. 

McGregor: Roxanne’s husband was working, so she was able to get by. But she was losing money. And as it wore on, she decided to do something about it.  

Merrill Young: And our management wasn't going to do too much about it. So I decide, well, we need to speak. We gotta take this public. This is ridiculous. 

McGregor: One thing I've noticed is a lot of public servants are nervous about speaking publicly because they don't want to affect their jobs. And some of them who do, there can be …

Merrill Young: Well, I was trying to tell my workers, like my coworkers, that we're not getting paid. They go, “Well, I don't wanna lose my job.” And I'm like, “Well, what are you losing?”

McGregor: She tried to rally her coworkers to stage a protest at the mall on the base.

Merrill Young: Come 7 o'clock that morning, nobody showed but me.

McGregor: You're the only one who showed up.

Merrill Young: Well, me and the guy that I drove with. So, we just decided, okay, well, we went into work or whatever. And they — my boss just came out and just said, “You know, you can't do that.” 

McGregor: But she didn’t give up there. When she heard Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was coming to town, she took it as another chance to protest and make herself heard. She organized a rally at the Miramichi pay centre, which was located in a commercial complex at the time.

Merrill Young: When we get parked and I get out of the vehicle, six RCMP officers came right over to me and they said, “Are you Roxanne Merrill Young?” And I went, “Yes.” And he goes — they go, “You can't be here.” And I'm like, “Why can't I?” They said, “Because this is, you know, public prop — or, private.” I said, “No, it's a mall.” Like, I'm here for the politicians. I want the politicians. I want the prime minister to hear me. I said, “I'm not taking this sitting down anymore.” I said, “So I guess you can arrest me, you can do whatever you want, but I'm standing here with my signs.” And the press came too. 

McGregor: In the end, Justin Trudeau wasn’t there.

Merrill Young: Anyway, back at the hotel, I'd seen that Mr. Trudeau was coming to Fredericton. And he was coming to the — doing these coffeehouse sessions or whatever, and he was going to the old YMCA. 

McGregor: But to get into the Trudeau event, you needed a ticket. Roxanne knew a woman who worked at a local business organization and managed to get three tickets: for herself, her mom and her son.

Merrill Young: When I got there, it was cold. And there was a lineup all the way back, like probably a mile. And I'm thinking, “Holy, I thought they could only fit 500 people in there.” So anyway, we waited for probably an hour in the cold. 

McGregor: Then, another setback. People started getting turned away. The venue was full.

Merrill Young: Anyway, I stood there, and I went, “No. I have these three tickets.” I lied, I said, “I took my mom out of the nursing home. I took my son out of school for the day.” And my mom's not in a nursing home. And I said, “We're coming in here.” I said, “I came all the way in here to see the prime minister, and I'm going to see the prime minister.”

McGregor: Just then, she was told three seats had opened up, and she managed to get in. And she got to ask the prime minister her question. Her son recorded it on his phone, so the audio is a bit muffled.

[Soundbite of a town hall in Fredericton]

Merrill Young: You know, it's been a very emotional rollercoaster. We're living through financial crisis. As you know …

McGregor: Roxanne’s question went on for several minutes while the prime minister listened before she got to her key point.

[Soundbite of a town hall in Fredericton]

Merrill Young: Mr. Prime Minister, how long will you let the Phoenix fiasco go on and us suffer from our paycheques? I mean, a lot of us have creditors calling. We really need some reprieve.

McGregor: Trudeau sounded like he was expecting a question about Phoenix.

[Soundbite of a town hall in Fredericton]

Trudeau: Let me first start by saying that I absolutely agree with you, the situation is unacceptable. When you're not getting paid for work done, particularly from the government, it's a situation that cannot continue. The suggestion that we revert to the system that was in place before Phoenix: I understand the frustration, the desire to do that. The problem was there was no system before Phoenix came in …

Unidentified person #1: We got paid.

Trudeau: It was done on a department by department level and was much less reliable in the big picture. Even though it was a system that, as you say, was working, it wasn't as efficient or as responsible as it should have been. This is a difficult transition we're going through, but we are working as hard as we can. And your specific issues: please make sure that anyone in difficulty brings that forward, comes talk to their MP. We will deal with those specific issues as best we can. It's one of those things that is extremely frustrating to me. It is unacceptable that we are going through it. But we are going through it, we are going to get out the other side. We will end up with a good system that will pay you the right amount on time. We're working as fast as we can to get there. And I understand your anger, your frustration, and I thank you for coming here to share that with — not just with me, but with all of us.

McGregor: So, a lot of sympathy from Canada’s top elected official. But Roxanne wasn’t really satisfied.

Merrill Young: Long story short is he never really did answer me. But I did — I put it out there. People, you know, were aware that's what I wanted. But — and after that, the next morning, I got a call from Ottawa …

McGregor: Oh, really?

Merrill Young: Saying your cheque’s in the mail.

McGregor: Ahaha, that made a difference. What would you have wanted to hear from him in that moment?

Merrill Young: Ha, “Here, I'll write you a cheque right now!” That he was going to at least try to attempt to fix it.

McGregor: Have you eventually gotten your money back, that you’re owed?

Merrill Young: It yo-yoed back and forth. And they still — they said I owed them. Like, I got statements saying that they said that I owe them, and I — like, I kept immaculate records, as you can see, my binders or whatever, dated and everything, I kept. And anyway, I just went back and I said, “I do not owe you, here are my records.” This is whatever. This is what you've taken out, whatever. And I never heard nothing ever back again. So I'm hoping to stir up the pot. Because if they come knocking, I ain't answering.

McGregor: That’s right, that’s right.

McGregor: A story about a payroll system that at first seemed mundane — insider baseball, of interest only to bureaucrats — was now national news. Phoenix also became the butt of jokes, including some by one of Canada’s best known comedic actors, Rick Mercer. In a sketch on his television show The Rick Mercer Report, he appeared wearing a silver spacesuit, on a set made to look like a futuristic living room, a bit like The Jetsons. Another actor played his son. 

[Soundbite of an episode of The Rick Mercer Report]

Actor #1: Hey, pops.

Rick Mercer: Hey, tiger. What's up, son? 

Actor #1: This came in the space mail today. 

Mercer: Ooh, looks like some sort of old-timey cheque. “Phoenix pay systems”? Weird. Wow. This is a cheque made out to your great-great-grandfather. This was the last cheque he was supposed to receive from the federal government. He's been dead for 57 years. 

Actor #1: What's a paycheque? 

Mercer: Oh, well, back in the old days, before the Trump wars, the government used paycheques to pay their workers. But ironically, they developed this Phoenix pay system that made it impossible for them to pay anyone. 

Actor #1: So, that should be in a museum, maybe?

Mercer: Yeah, the Museum of Stupid. Why don’t you just stick it on this space fridge and we’ll laugh at it later?

McGregor: One official who wasn’t laughing about Phoenix was Canada’s then-auditor general, the government’s top spending watchdog. Michael Ferguson’s staff would perform two audits on Phoenix. The first landed in 2017, and its findings dramatically contradicted the government’s optimistic early response. Ferguson was called before a parliamentary committee to explain what his staff had found.

[Soundbite of a parliamentary committee meeting]

Michael Ferguson: Since Phoenix went live in February 2016, the federal government frequently could not pay federal public servants accurately or on time. We found that pay problems continued to grow throughout the period of our audit. A year and a half after the government launched the Phoenix pay system, the number of public servants waiting for a pay request to be processed had reached more than 150,000 in the 46 departments and agencies whose pay services were centralized.

When this system was put in place, it wasn't ready to process the transactions that it was asked to process. And now there’s a lot of time and effort — and money — that is being spent on trying to get the system back to where it needed to be.

McGregor: Ferguson also said that his office planned another more detailed audit.

[Soundbite of a Parliamentary committee meeting]

Ferguson: What we have is a system that was implemented, that didn't work. This audit was not about trying to identify, you know, who made what decisions and who was responsible for what. We're going to come back and revisit the decision in the second audit.

McGregor: That is, he’d be back, and next time, he’d point fingers. In the first year after the Phoenix launch, the government’s response had been mostly deflection, pinning responsibility for a flawed system on the shoulders of the previous Conservative government that Justin Trudeau and his Liberals had knocked out of power in 2015.

But now that Trudeau was prime minister, the Conservatives were eager to put the blame for Phoenix on him. An MP from Saskatchewan named Andrew Scheer took over as Conservative leader in the spring of 2017. He would use the daily bearpit of Question Period in the House of Commons to confront the prime minister.

[Soundbite of Question Period in the House of Commons]

Andrew Scheer: Let’s talk about Phoenix, Mr. Speaker. Let’s talk about the Liberal decision to ignore a third-party report that said that the system wasn’t ready, and they rushed ahead for political reasons.

It was their choice to press the start button. They have had two years to fix it. Two years, and they have done nothing. Meanwhile, families across the country are suffering because of their lack of action and their incompetence. When will the prime minister take responsibility for his decision and stop trying to blame other people?

Regan: The Right Honourable prime minister.

Trudeau: Mr. Speaker, the member opposite just actually laid it out. The problem was that they had fired 700 people in order to book the savings that they were counting on so they could magically balance the budget just in time for the election, to try and save their skins on their terrible economic performance of the past 10 years. We did not create the Phoenix problem, Mr. Speaker, but we are going to fix it!

McGregor: The blame game continued. Politicians and journalists argued over who should ultimately be held responsible.  Was it IBM, the prime contractor in the overhaul of the payroll technology? Or was it the politicians, the cabinet ministers involved in transformation of pay? And if so, were the Conservatives who created Phoenix as a cost-saving measure to blame? Or the Liberals who rushed ahead and launched it before it was ready?

Or was it the public service — the government workers and managers involved — that fumbled? The auditor general Michael Ferguson followed through with a second report on Phoenix. He made good on his promise to point fingers, and his conclusion was damning.

[Soundbite of a parliamentary committee meeting]

Ferguson: We concluded that the Phoenix project was an incomprehensible failure of project management and project oversight. This meant that the decision to launch Phoenix was wrong.

McGregor: An “incomprehensible failure.” Frank language from the auditor general, speaking in front of a parliamentary committee. In a message that prefaced the report, Ferguson said top officials had learned to avoid hearing bad news. The report found that staff in the departments and agencies didn't get adequate training about working with the new system. And, Ferguson told the committee, the government removed important functions from the software so they could get Phoenix to the launchpad on time.

[Soundbite of a parliamentary committee meeting]

Ferguson: In order to meet budgets and timelines, Public Services and Procurement Canada decided to remove critical pay functions, curtail testing and forgo a pilot implementation of the system. 

McGregor: This is important, so I’m going to read directly from the audit: “When the system was put in place, it could not perform some critical pay functions, such as processing requests for retroactive pay. The Department knew about many of these critical weaknesses before implementing the Phoenix system.” What the audit found was that the officials in charge of Phoenix had decided to postpone or remove more than 100 important pay functions from the software. At launch, it did not, for example, have the ability to process requests for extra pay an employee gets when they temporarily fill in for a superior.

The report notes, “We found that before implementing Phoenix, Phoenix executives did not ensure that it could properly process pay.” That’s about as plainly as one could put it. They didn’t check to see if it worked. Ferguson was particularly scathing in his assessment of executives at Public Services and Procurement Canada who oversaw the Phoenix project.

[Soundbite of a parliamentary committee meeting]

Ferguson: Phoenix executives ignored obvious signs that the Miramichi pay centre was not ready to handle the volume of pay transactions, and that Phoenix itself was not ready to correctly pay federal government employees. 

McGregor: Here, Ferguson gives some defence to the senior official who was then at the top of the public services department. He was, Ferguson says, misinformed by his staff about Phoenix's readiness.

[Soundbite of a parliamentary committee meeting]

Ferguson: When the Phoenix executives briefed the deputy minister of Public Services and Procurement Canada that Phoenix would launch, they did not mention significant problems that they knew about.

McGregor: By extension, that also offers some cover to the politicians, especially the Liberals — who made the decision to launch Phoenix in two waves, in February and April 2016 — and for contractor IBM.

[Soundbite of a Parliamentary committee meeting]

Ferguson: In this particular project, it was the three Phoenix executives who had the responsibility for making the decisions. You know, so any external contractors didn't have any authority to say, “No, this isn't going ahead.” It was the three Phoenix executives that had that authority.

McGregor: So, inadequate testing. A pilot project that was scrapped. Executives who had the power to press pause on Phoenix, but didn’t. The auditor general’s second report was a scathing indictment of the performance of the public servants who led the construction and implementation of Phoenix.

But the public service responded. The top unelected bureaucrat in the country came before a parliamentary committee to answer questions. Michael Wernick was a seasoned public servant who had risen to the top rung, clerk of the privy council: the bureaucrat who provides crucial advice to the prime minister, his cabinet ministers and MPs. And he wasn’t pleased with the message that Ferguson had written in the preface to the audit. “An opinion piece,” he called it.

[Soundbite of a parliamentary committee meeting]

Michael Wernick: I believe it contains sweeping generalizations. It's not supported by the evidence, and it doesn't provide you any particular guidance on what to do to move forward. I also don't agree that the pay system was an incomprehensible failure. I think it's entirely comprehensible. It was avoidable. It's repairable, and it gives us all kinds of lessons about how to build a better public service.

McGregor: It was, in fact, comprehensible, Wernick explained, The problems had been identified in two consultant reports and in the auditor general's two reports. 

[Soundbite of a Parliamentary committee meeting]

Wernick: My take on the pay system is it was a perfect storm and confluence of all kinds of factors, which are laid out in the auditor general's two chapters. And you can continue to pursue that line of inquiry. It's perfectly legitimate to want to pursue the forensics of what happened and how did we get here. It’s not actually — in my view — going to help that much in the urgent job of stabilizing the system and getting people paid on time, accurately, today. And it doesn't provide a lot of guidance on what to do going forward.

McGregor: Wernick had a point. The auditor general’s office had done an autopsy on Phoenix and identified the key pathology that caused its failure. But it hadn’t laid out a clear plan to fix it. And the government had to find a path. The backlog of pay requests remained. The total cost of implementing Phoenix kept rising. And the government still had to pay more than 270,000 public servants every two weeks, using a system that had become a joke.

In our final episode, we’ll look at how the government is trying to compensate the people affected by Phoenix, and build a brand new system to pay its employees.

Have you been affected by the phoenix pay system? We’d love to hear your story.

Or perhaps you have questions or comments on this series - We would also like to hear from you. You can contact us here.
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