The problem-plagued Phoenix payroll system has already cost the government more than $1 billion and could require an additional $500 million a year until it is fixed, based on the government’s latest estimate made public Friday.
The majority of future spending is being described as “unplanned” costs and doesn’t include more than $120 million in expected, one-time expenses to stabilize the system that has left countless public servants overpaid, underpaid, or not paid at all.
The report says the government’s best estimate is that it could take five years to stabilize the Phoenix pay system, meaning that it would be reliably able to pay people every two weeks rather than having public servants waiting to see if they have been “Phoenixed.”
Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough, who oversees work on the system, says she expects the actual costs to be lower over time given some improvements and pilot projects the government is implementing.
She said the figures in the report are a snapshot from March 2018 and much has changed since then.
“There are so many moving parts on this (that) I’m hesitant to say, yes that’s what it’s going to cost and that’s how long it’s going to take because I think we’re going to do it sooner,” Qualtrough said.
The previous Conservative government estimated that replacing the previous pay systems with Phoenix would save taxpayers roughly $70 million annually by requiring fewer people to work on pay files.
But the total cost as of March was almost $1.1 billion — more than three times the original projected cost of $309.2 million for the project, according to figures in the report.
Auditor general Michael Ferguson lambasted the system last month in a report that called Phoenix an “incomprehensible failure” of project management and oversight, which led to green-lighting a system that wasn’t ready.
Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick fired back at Ferguson during a Commons committee hearing this month, accusing the auditor of making “sweeping generalizations” about public servants.