IN THE HOUSE ~ Speech on the NDP Opposition Day Motion - Phoenix Pay System

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You can watch the video of the full speech here: https://youtu.be/uU0Gjjf6buk

Mr. Peter Julian (New Westminster—Burnaby, NDP): 

    Mr. Speaker, the member of Parliament for Jonquière gave a very eloquent speech. I will say that I was very disturbed by the questioning coming from the Liberal side, but I will come back to that in a moment.

    I will start, as I think all members of Parliament need to start, by paying tribute to the incredible diligence and dedication of the public servants who run our government and provide services to our citizens right across the length and breadth of this land. They are incredibly dedicated. They are people who give their lives to public service. In the national capital region, in my riding of New Westminster—Burnaby, in every part of the country, they make sure that citizens receive good, quality services. Public servants are an incredibly dedicated group.

    We are now facing a situation in this country that has no parallel in any other industrialized country. We see a situation where public servants, working with such dedication, do not receive the paycheque they so richly deserve at the end of the week all because of government mismanagement. It is hard to find a parallel. It is only in terms of warfare or insurrection that public servants end up in the situation such as we have here. We have a government that simply refuses to take responsibility and refuses to take the important measures that would actually lead to fixing the system.

    On February 28, 2016, the Liberals had been in power for a number of months, and they made the decision to operationalize the Phoenix system. Now, we just heard a very disturbing question from a Liberal MP trying to say that it was not their fault. I find that deplorable. The heart of our democratic system is governments taking responsibility for the decisions they make. Yes, of course, the Conservatives should not have started down the path of putting Phoenix in place, but the Liberals had the choice to make, and they chose on February 28, 2016, after months in power, to operationalize Phoenix.

    What should they have done? As my colleague the member for Jonquière just pointed out, people in the public service had pointed out the problems that would arise with Phoenix, but the Liberals ignored them. It would have taken a 30-second Google search for them to find out what had happened in Queensland with a similar system.

    In Queensland, they did not have the benefit of a debacle occurring with a similar system before, and they moved forward with IBM and put in place a system that was catastrophic. Within weeks they realized that public servants in the Queensland area were not getting their paycheques. Within weeks the Queensland government realized it had to take action. Paradoxically, for a system that was supposed to save them money, they ended up paying over $1.2 billion to fix the boondoggle that was the Phoenix-like system in Queensland.

     We should have learned from that error. We should have had maybe one Liberal MP just do a Google search and find out if they should have put the system in place. The Liberals had been in power for months, and they had this important decision to make: move forward with the Phoenix system on February 28, 2016, or take a step back, the way so many public servants requested they do, not put it in place and save the public money, and save the public servants the heartache of working as hard as they do and yet not receiving a paycheque at the end.

    The Liberals made that choice. In this democratic system, they are the government. They made the decision. They put Phoenix in place, and today we are saying that they have to fix it. They have to fix the problems with Phoenix.

    What has the impact been? The Liberals could have avoided it. They could have learned from the Queensland example. They could have rapidly moved once it became evident that Phoenix was a debacle, that public servants were not getting their paycheques, that there were catastrophic personal and family impacts for the bad decision they made on February 28, 2016.

    In the Queensland case, they were able to fix it in four months with the investment of money. Here with Phoenix, it is two years later and the system has not been fixed. The government does not even seem interested in fixing it. The Liberals love to point fingers at the Conservatives. I would too, if the Conservatives were at fault. The Liberals made that operational decision, and the Liberals have to fix what they broke.

    What has this meant? I have had public servants visit me in my office in New Westminster—Burnaby with tears in their eyes. They are so dedicated to the country. They believe so strongly in public service. They want to give to the population and serve our citizens, yet they are going deeper and deeper into debt because they are not getting a paycheque. Some have lost their homes, as we know. There is the embarrassment of public servants who are working full time going into a grocery store and not being able to buy food for their children because their credit cards are maxed out. The government has done nothing to fix it.

    In each one of those cases, and there are thousands of these tragic cases, the emotional stress takes a toll on the family and on the individual. It is not a little thing to work full time and not receive a paycheque. Then to compound this, when there are occasional overpayments, the Liberal government made the decision to start doing what most loan sharks do across the country. It is not a laughing matter. When a public servant receives a paycheque that is a little higher than it should be, instead of asking to be paid back for the amount that the public servant actually received, the Liberal government has vastly inflated that amount. Yes, in some cases the public servant was overpaid, but is now facing the stress of having to pay back far more money than was actually received. That again was a Liberal decision. That again is something that is addressed in our motion. We say very strongly that this kind of activity has to stop.

    It is not just the toll on the individual; it is also the toll on communities. As we know, cities like Prince Albert have written to the government saying that it is not only the toll on families and public servants but the toll on the whole community. Businesses are impacted because public servants are not getting their money. Local businesses are struggling now because of the government's refusal to fix the system. The impact goes all the way down the line.

    I would encourage people who are listening today to contact their city councillors and have them write, as Prince Albert did, to the federal government and say that it has to fix this system. The impact has been tragic on so many Canadians who are of good faith, hard-working, and go to work every day and want to serve the country. All they ask for in return is a fair paycheque so they can take care of their family, pay their rent, and put food on the table. That is not asking too much.

    For two years now this has festered, with the government refusing to take the actions that the Queensland government did. It fixed it in 120 days, albeit with a significant investment. However, as the Auditor General has mentioned, the Liberal government failed public servants in this country. Yes, that bad decision will cost us $1 billion or possibly more, but it needs to be fixed and those public servants need to be compensated.

    Liberal MPs will have to make a decision when this comes to a vote. I am encouraging public servants across the country, who work so hard, to take time to phone or email their local member of Parliament and tell their MP to vote yes on this motion. We cannot have this become a partisan issue, where Liberals say, “We are not going to take responsibility, so we are not going to vote for the motion.â€� We have to fix this system. We have to respect our public servants. We have to respect the communities they serve as well. We have to respect them, and that means adopting this motion this week.

    That means every member of Parliament will have to make a choice. Do they choose politics or do they choose to support the hard-working public servants who are the backbone of public administration in Canada?

QUESTION: 

Mr. Steven MacKinnon (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Lib.): 

    Mr. Speaker, I did not have much of an opportunity to speak in my first language earlier, so I will now try to speak in the other official language.

    This is a very serious charge. The motion says, “the government committed a gross error in judgment when it operationalized the...Phoenix pay system over the clear objections of...departmental staff..â€�.

    The member for Jonquière has failed to produce any substantiation for that allegation. This is in the motion, a solemn motion, in front of the House of Commons.

    I would ask the member, like I asked the member for Jonquière, could he produce for the House documented evidence of the very serious charge and the serious allegation that his party is making in the motion?

RESPONSE: 

Mr. Peter Julian: 

    Seriously, Mr. Speaker, that is unbelievable. I hope that member is not representative of his party. If he is representative of his party, what he has just shown public servants right across this country is a profound lack of respect.

    The member wants evidence that Phoenix has failed. He wants evidence that it failed in Queensland. He wants evidence that unions spoke out about Phoenix before his government implemented it on February 28. Is he serious?

     I expected the Liberals to try to weave out of this, but I did not expect them to deny the problems with Phoenix, to deny the problems in Australia, to deny that unions came forward and said there are problems with Phoenix, and to deny that the Liberals operationalized what has led to catastrophic repercussions for public servants across the country.

    I would hope that Liberal MPs disavow what was just said in the House. I hope that Liberal MPs will vote for their constituents and vote yes for the motion when it comes up for a vote later this week.

QUESTION: 

Hon. Tony Clement (Parry Sound—Muskoka, CPC): 

    Further to that, Mr. Speaker, and to support the hon. member in his response, if the hon. member opposite on the Liberal benches wants evidence, it is called the Auditor General's report, which those members solemnly said they agreed with and would support and are now denying.

    Would the hon. member think it would be germane to the NDP motion if he were to hear that the minister in charge of the file on the Phoenix pay system during the Conservative rule, the hon. member for Haldimand—Norfolk, had a presentation made to her in July 2015, wherein the people in the bureaucracy responsible for the pay system said, “We are ready to go. Please press the start button.â€� She refused to press the start button because she realized there were still problems with the system and it was not ready to go.

     It did not occur during a Conservative government, because the minister responsible did the right thing and did not press the start button. The Liberals did press the start button when they were not ready and when there were still problems in the system. Is that germane to the motion?

RESPONSE: 

Mr. Peter Julian: 

    Yes, of course, it would be, Mr. Speaker.

    However, I am still stunned by the lack of remorse from members on the Liberal side. I did not expect this. I expected some weaving back and forth. The Liberal government generally does not take much responsibility for its own actions. I expected that, but I did not expect an outright denial of Liberals being involved in the decision-making process, pushing the start button, operationalizing the system, while knowing that it was going to have catastrophic results. All of that is on the record, as the member pointed out by mentioning the Auditor General's report. The Auditor General said that the Liberal government failed public servants. The evidence is there. I did not expect to hear Liberals basically say, the way that Donald Trump would say, “Well no, you are all public service or inventing your facts.â€�

    This is not fake news. This is a tragic reality for far too many public servants. The Liberal government has to make right what it broke, and that is why Liberal MPs have to vote yes on the motion this week.