People's Alliance pushes for private liquor, cannabis retail system

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People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin says the province should abandon the government-owned system of selling liquor and cannabis for one that gets privately owned stores to do the selling.

Austin's comments on Information Morning Fredericton come after the CEO of NB Liquor and Cannabis NB Brian Harriman announced last week that he was stepping down.

Austin said the change at the top of the Crown corporation should bring a change in philosophy that would recognize full privatization as being in the province's best interest.

"If you look at other jurisdictions across North America, it's done exceptionally well, including even in our own country in Alberta," said Austin

"They brought forward a privatization model which saw increased employment, increased revenue, better variety and distribution. Just all the way around seemed to be a better system."

The Alberta system has seen increased liquor store locations and product selection, but even that system has been criticized because it retains government control over distribution. Wages have also gone down for retail workers in Alberta's private outlets. 

More innovation, revenue

Austin said privatization would eliminate the government monopoly and allow for more innovation.

He also said the province would see more revenue in privatization because it would still receive tax revenue on sales of alcohol and cannabis but wouldn't incur the overhead of operating retail stores.

Austin says the province would make more money if it got out of the business of selling liquor and pot.

He said employment would increase as new businesses moved into the market.

Government would still regulate the industry through licensing and enforcement of liquor and cannabis laws, Austin said.

"Basically the same thing they're doing now, but less cost associated with that," he said.

Union response

CUPE 963, the union that represents NB Liquor employees, does not support privatization.

"It looks like the [People's Alliance] is doing the Conservatives' dirty work, by proposing to kill the proverbial 'golden goose' so that a few big corporate players — such as Sobeys and Irving (Circle K) can make more profit," Jamie Agnew, President of CUPE 963, said in a news release.

CUPE 963 president Jamie Agnew says privatizing the sale of liquor and cannabis would be akin to killing the "golden goose."

Privatization would lead to higher prices and lower revenue and would remove public health safeguards, the union said, citing a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute.

Daniel Légère, the president of CUPE NB, said government control of alcohol and cannabis is the "safest and best way ahead for consumers."

"I advise the PANB to remove their pro-corporate blinders. Privatization means private profit before people, and fewer good jobs."

Better things to do

New Brunswick now has a government monopoly on the sale and distribution of recreational cannabis, with products only being sold in Cannabis NB stores and on the Crown corporation's website.

NB Liquor has a similar mandate, but alcohol sales are permitted in some private stores in areas where there is no corporate store, and some wines and cider are available in grocery stores. NB Liquor decides where these "agency stores" are located and who runs them.

Citing health care and education, Austin said there are more important things than selling liquor and cannabis for the government to deal with. And with cannabis, the province isn't doing a good job anyway, he said.

 

 

'Government's the only entity I'm aware of that could lose money selling marijuana,' Austin says.

"There you see sales have been down.

"Government's the only entity I'm aware of that could lose money selling marijuana. It's just not a good model for government, and the private sector would do it so much better."

Cannabis appears to be falling short of sales projections in its first six months.

The corporation was projected to hit sales of $45 million by March 30. As of Dec. 23, 2018, only $8.6 million in sales had been reported.

 Austin said that his party is researching how the province could get out of contracts with cannabis producers and people who rent out the retail location.

Austin said one solution might be to get entrepreneurs to take over the contracts. There could also be "options" for employees to either take over the business or find jobs in the private sector.

Claims support from PCs​

Austin says the Blaine Higgs government has been receptive of his calls to privatize alcohol and cannabis sales.

Austin said he's been in contact with the Blaine Higgs's Progressive Conservative government and it is receptive to the idea. 

"They're certainly open to the idea. I believe right now they're looking into it."

Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters he wants to analyze both NB Liquor and Cannabis NB but didn't confirm he had spoken with Austin about privatization and said he isn't sure that's the best option.

Higgs said he supported looking at the possibility of privatization but any evaluation would take months.

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