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Phoenix ‘pay pods’ show some success, but still no word on overall fix

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One year after instituting a special “pay pod” system to deal with the controversial Phoenix pay system’s ongoing backlog, Ottawa says it’s showing results.

But despite pressure from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the government still won’t say when all public servants can expect to be paid correctly.

Before Phoenix was launched in 2016, federal ministries had their own in-house pay teams in place. Now, the payroll experts for 46 departments and agencies have been centralized in one location: the Public Service Pay Centre.

The switch caused some data to be entered incorrectly into Phoenix, and those mistakes have contributed to an ongoing backlog of overpayments, underpayments and missing payments.

As of Nov. 28, there were 289,000 pay transactions “beyond normal workload” at the Public Service Pay Centre, according to Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC).

‘Pay pods’ see some success

To help reduce the backlog, the federal government launched a “pay pod” pilot project in December 2017.

A small group of 25 payroll specialists were dedicated to oversee pay requests for three organizations:

  • Veterans Affairs Canada.
  • Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada.
  • The Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario.

Their mission was to focus exclusively on the pay issues of approximately 10,000 employees combined.

The approach paid off, according to the federal government. The three organizations saw a 39 per cent decrease in their backlog of transactions as of September 2018.

Based on those early results, Minister Carla Qualtrough announced last spring that the pay pods would be expanded to all the departments and agencies overseen by Phoenix.

By October 2018, 24 of the 46 departments and agencies served by the Miramichi Pay Centre had dedicated pay pods.

The government hopes to implement the new system to the 22 remaining ministries and agencies by mid-2019.

Federal union wants firm deadline

PSAC’s national executive vice-president is cautiously optimistic about the pay pod approach.

Magali Picard recognizes it looks promising, but said she would like the government to commit to a firm deadline to fix Phoenix’s problems.

Magali Picard, national executive vice-president of PSAC, says she wants to hear whether or not the expanded pay pod system is expected to deal with the entire backlog of Phoenix pay problems. (CBC)

“What I would like to hear is — if all of those pay pods are active by mid-2019 — does it mean that the federal government will fix every single pay issue in 2019?” she asked.

Qualtrough’s parliamentary secretary, Steven MacKinnon, told CBC the government intends to fix Phoenix for good, but he declined to put a date forward as to when the backlog will be addressed.

“While we have always been hesitant to give a date, because you know, unexpected things come up … what I can say, is that 2018 was the year where these efforts started to really eat into the problem and I think that you’re going to see continued acceleration of those results in 2019,” MacKinnon said.

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List of Tourist Attractions Open Now in Ottawa

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With Ontario now in Step 3 of 2021 three-step plan for reopening, museums and other indoor attractions are allowed to reopen with capacity limited to not exceed 50 per cent capacity indoors and 75 per cent capacity outdoors.

Here is a list of Ottawa attractions you can visit starting July 16th.

Do remember to wear masks and buy tickets in advance.

Parliament Hill

Parliament’s Centre Block and Peace Tower are closed for renovation.

You can join for tours of the Senate of Canada Building (2 Rideau Street), House of Commons at West Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill, and East Block at East Block (111 Wellington Street) on Parliament Hill.

When: Grounds open; guided tours of Parliament are suspended through the summer of 2021.
Where: 111 Wellington Street, Downtown Ottawa

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Ottawa performer leapfrogs from gymnastics to Broadway to TV

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A new AppleTV+ series set in a magical town that’s stuck in a neverending 1940s musical includes a pair of Ottawa siblings in the cast. 

Warren Yang and his sister, Ericka Hunter, play two of the singing, dancing residents of the village portrayed in Schmigadoon!, a small-screen series that takes its cues from classic musicals like Brigadoon, Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music, and skewers them with the offbeat comedic mastery of Saturday Night Live. 

In fact, you’ll recognize many of the names from SNL, starting with executive producer Lorne Michaels, creator of the late-night, live-comedy sketch show. Schmigadoon! also stars SNL cast member Cecily Strong and comedian Keegan-Michael Key, who hosted SNL in May. They play a New York couple who get lost on a hike and stumble into a strange town where everyone sings and dances. 

For Yang, a relative newcomer to show-biz, the series marks his television debut. For Hunter, the younger of his two older sisters, it’s the latest in a career path that began with dance lessons as a child more than 30 years ago. She attended Canterbury High School, Ottawa’s arts-focused secondary school. 

“Her dream was always to perform,” said Yang, 34, in an interview. “But that was never the path I thought was an option for me.” 

While his sister studied dance, Yang did gymnastics. He was an elite gymnast throughout his youth, ultimately leaving Merivale High School at 16 to train in Montreal, finishing high school through correspondence courses. He was a member of the Canadian National Team and received a scholarship to study at Penn State, majoring in marketing. 

A few years after graduation, Yang was working at an advertising agency in Toronto when he got a call from a Manhattan number. To his astonishment, they asked if he would be interested in auditioning for a Broadway revival of Miss Saigon.

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COVID-19: uOttawa to require vaccination for students living in residence

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Vaccination will be mandatory for students who want to live in residence at the University of Ottawa this year, with proof of vaccination and at least one dose required before move-in, or within two weeks of doing so if they can’t secure a shot before arriving.

Those who can’t receive a vaccine for “health-related reasons or other grounds protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code” will be able to submit a request for accommodation through the university’s housing portal, according to information on the university’s website.

Students with one dose living in residence will also have to receive their second dose “within the timeframe recommended by Ottawa Public Health.”

People who haven’t been granted an exemption and don’t get vaccinated or submit proof of having done so by the deadlines set out by the school will have their residence agreements terminated, uOttawa warns.

“Medical and health professionals are clear that vaccination is the most (effective) means of protecting people and those around them,” reads a statement provided to this newspaper by uOttawa’s director of strategic communications, Patrick Charette.

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“It is precisely for this reason that the University of Ottawa is requiring all students living in residence for the 2021-2022 academic year to be fully vaccinated. The University recognizes that some students may require accommodations for a variety of reasons and will be treating exceptions appropriately.”

Faculty, staff and students are also strongly encouraged to get vaccinated, the statement notes.

“Ensuring a high vaccine coverage in all communities is critical to ensuring an ongoing decline in cases and ending the pandemic. This will be especially important with the return of students to post-secondary institutions in our region in the fall of 2021.”

Neither Carleton University nor Algonquin College is currently mandating vaccination for students living in residence, according to the websites for both schools. But uOttawa isn’t alone in its policy – Western University, Trent University, Durham College and Fanshawe College have all implemented similar requirements. Seneca College, in the GTA, is going even further, making vaccination mandatory for students and staff to come to campus, in-person, for the fall term.

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