NB Liquor reported its third straight disappointing quarter on Monday, with total sales down about $3.4 million for the quarter ending Dec. 30, compared to the same period the year before.
This, at a time when the provincial government is trying to grow revenue and when Finance Minister Blaine Higgs has publicly questioned whether the provincial government should abandon its practice of appointing presidents of the Crown agency based on patronage.
NB Liquor's total sales for the third quarter were $100.6 million, about 3.3 per cent less than the quarter ended Jan. 1, 2012, according to unaudited results.
But Daniel Allain, the corporation's president and chief executive officer, said the latest results exclude Dec. 31, a high-volume sales day reported in the previous year's results.
"Despite the decline in sales, attention to better store execution and gross margin improvement paid off in the quarter as we continue to focus on the opportunities identified in the Report to Cabinet," Allain stated in a news release.
Wine sales increased 4.5 per cent, World Wine and Food Expo sales increased 4.5 per cent and NB Spirits Festival sales increased 4.3 per cent, said Allain.
But beer sales dropped by 6.4 per cent, spirit sales by 2.5 per cent and other beverages by 9.8 per cent.
Overall, sales have been down an average of $1 million a month during the first nine months of the current fiscal year, the records show.
Topic at pre-budget meetings
New Brunswick's projected deficit has almost doubled to $356 million and the Alward government was hoping NB Liquor would be the source of a lot more revenue than it's been producing.
It's an issue that has been raised more than once during the finance minister's pre-budget public consultations.
People complain that liquor prices are up and store hours are down. Meanwhile, profit margins have been missed, despite promises of better by Allain, who was co-chair of Premier David Alward's campaign in the 2010 provincial election.
Keith Sewell, a Saint John resident, suggested privatizing NB Liquor during the recent pre-budget meeting in the city.
"When the government changes, at least we could save the cost of getting rid of one CEO and hiring another one," he had said.
The finance minister said the government is "looking at that process."
"If you look at NB Power, where they have a CEO who is actually brought through the system in terms of whether they grow in the system or are hired from the outside, but they don't change unless there's a performance issue," said Higgs.
"And certainly, I think that's an opportunity for us in that world of NB Liquor as well," he said.
Plum post historically partisan
Allain was appointed the president and CEO of NB Liquor by Alward in October 2010.
The job is considered one of the plum appointments for incoming governments and partisan selections are made by each premier.
The position pays between $150,000 and $175,000 a year.
NB Liquor's former CEO Dana Clendenning was executive director of the Liberal party and a political adviser to former Liberal premier Shawn Graham.
Clendenning, who led NB Liquor for only four years, left his position when the Liberals lost power in the last election. He was among five Liberal-connected deputy ministers who were given severance packages to leave their jobs.
Although he didn't have the five years required for a provincial pension, he was given a special pension package.
Clendenning had replaced Barbara Winsor, who had previously served as the chief of staff for former Progressive Conservative premier Bernard Lord.
Winsor was one of five officials in Lord's government who each received more than their annual salaries in paycheques and severance packages in the year they were bought out by the Liberal government.