Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, I’d like all of us to contemplate the question I’m about to ask. When you’re about to buy a new car, what do you do? You do a little research, especially online, about what you want, how you want to finance it, the history of the car, if it was a used car, for accidents and whatnot. When you do that, if you find an accident in a car’s history, would you buy that car? Perhaps not.
I ask this of the Government Representative in the Senate for a particular and important reason. We know that Australia learned the hard way that our Phoenix-based pay system has troubles, and yet the government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, seems to have had no knowledge of this, went ahead anyway and contracted IBM to build our Phoenix pay system.
Could the Government Representative tell us how this even happened, and if the government knew what it was getting into?
Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question. Let me simply say that when this government took office, the transition to the Phoenix system was well under way. Unfortunately, a decision had been made before they took office to separate a large number of pay clerks from the Government of Canada, on the assumption that the efficiencies and effectiveness of the new system would be seamlessly calibrated to go online.
It is absolutely true that there have been some bumps along the way as the government has sought to respond to this situation. The minister responsible has publicly made this her highest priority. The Government of Canada has invested significant resources, has brought back on over 600 pay clerks, has invested in technology to accelerate the remedial actions, and is monitoring the situation very closely. This is an intolerable situation, but it is one that the government has inherited and is seeking to repair.
Senator Mercer: Bumps may be a little understatement, Your Honour. If you were a public servant in this country and your pay was being disrupted by this incompetent system that had been put in place by the previous government, bumps is not what you would consider this to be; it is a bit of a mountain.
Well, honourable senators, it seems the government bought a lemon, and now it is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a problem that it should have known was going to happen. Simply Google “Phoenix pay system” and you would have found out there were problems all around the world. Now that the new government under Prime Minister Trudeau has inherited this mess, what plans does it have to recoup the money that it is spending to fix the problem that seems to have no solution? When will they sue IBM?
Senator Harder: I thank the honourable senator for his question. As he will know, the government has made public statements and continues to ensure that the contractual obligations are met. We follow the contract, and should the contract not be met, there are provisions in the contract which will be followed.