New Brunswick

Decision on Cannabis NB put off till the new year

Almost a year ago, eight companies submitted proposals to take over operation of money-losing Cannabis NB as the province mulled privatization. Since then, it has seen record sales, its CEO has resigned and a decision on its fate has been put off again.

Facing possible privatization, agency has gone from money-loser to profit-reaper in recent months

A decision on whether to privatize Cannabis NB, which had been expected by the end of 2020, has now been put off until the new year. (Maria Jose Burgos/CBC News file photo)

The New Brunswick government has again delayed a final decision on whether to privatize Cannabis NB.

Last November, following Cannabis NB's dismal performance in the first half of 2019, the Higgs government said it could not tolerate multimillion-dollar losses. It  launched a country-wide search for a private sector operator to take the agency over.

Eight companies submitted proposals, and a final decision was expected by spring.

Since then, a pandemic has thrown the economic landscape into disarray, Cannabis NB has seen record sales, its CEO has resigned for undisclosed reasons, and a final decision on its fate — which had been given a new soft deadline of the end of 2020 — has once again been moved forward.

In an email Wednesday, Finance Department spokesperson Jennifer Vienneau told CBC News the decision-making process "will continue in the new year."

The Crown corporation, which operates 20 stores in 15 communities across the province, has had a turbulent few months leading up to the end of the year.

Agency posted record sales, profits in October

In October, with the prospect of being turned over to the private sector hanging over its head, Cannabis NB rushed its second-quarter financial results out to report significant sales and profit increases through the summer. 

"A year ago we were asked to fix Cannabis New Brunswick and we did," president Patrick Parent said at a rare quarterly report news conference at the time.

"Cannabis New Brunswick has the most profit per capita in Canada, something we should all be proud of."

    According to unaudited results reported by the agency, sales over 13 weeks between June 29 and Sept. 27 rose to $20.1 million. That returned a $3.3 million profit.

    Patrick Parent, president and CEO of Alcool NB Liquor and Cannabis NB, resigned on Dec. 22. He said he was planning to return to the private sector, but offered no further comment on why he was leaving. (CBC News file photo)

    Both figures were records and a major improvement over a year earlier.

    During the same quarter the previous summer, sales were just over half as much — $10.7 million — and the Crown corporation lost $1.5 million.

    Following the release of those results, Vienneau said a final decision on whether to privatize Cannabis NB was coming soon, and its recent success would be taken into consideration.

    Less than three months later, on Dec. 22, Parent announced he was resigning from the top job at Cannabis NB after just 16 months.

    Parent said in a statement that it was "not an easy decision," and that he planned to return to a CEO role in the private sector. 

    He gave no further reason for his departure and was not available for comment. 

    The Higgs government has also not responded to requests for comment on the departure. 

    With files from Shane Magee and Robert Jones


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