New Brunswick·podcast

Cannabis, liquor stores best kept out of private sector, say Liberals, Greens

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin met pushback from other opposition parties Thursday over his call to privatize liquor and cannabis sales.

Kris Austin suggests higher tax to make up for lost revenue under the private system he wants

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin said he's already brought up his privatization idea with the Progressive Conservative government. (CBC)

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People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin met pushback from other opposition parties Thursday over his call to privatize liquor and cannabis sales.

On the CBC's New Brunswick Political Panel, Austin argued that reducing the overhead for distributing liquor and cannabis could allow government to spend less and still make money from selling those products by "adjusting" the sales taxes. 

But Liberal MLA Roger Melanson and Green MLA Kevin Arseneau argued the revenue coming from NB Liquor and Cannabis NB is already steady, and allows money to be put back into the province's education and health systems, for example.

Privatization in Alberta has resulted in lower revenue for the government "and an increase in social harms," Arseneau said.

Austin began speaking out about privatization after Brian Harriman, the CEO of NB Liquor and Cannabis NB, announced last month that he was stepping down to join a private cannabis company.

Austin said it's "kind of ironic" that Harriman left the Crown corporation to go to the private sector in Alberta.

Kent North MLA Kevin Arseneau says privatization could cause social harm. (CBC)

"Alberta does it better, New Brunswick is behind on that," he said. "Government should have nothing to do with retail, especially with retail of alcohol and marijuana."

However, Melanson said Alberta has a privatized distribution of liquor and cannabis, but it is still responsible for regulations and procurement.

"Mr. Harriman is … not going to Alberta in the distribution side, he's actually going on the production side of the business," he said.

Melanson also said Austin can't compare the two economies, since Alberta is larger and people have more disposable income.

Liberal MLA Roger Melanson says it's incorrect for Austin to assume that what may work for Alberta will work for New Brunswick. (CBC)

"It's not apple to apple in terms of revenue being generated," he said.

Arseneau said government can't only look at policies from an economic standpoint but should also focus on social responsibility and public safety, and privatization could cause harm on that end.

Silence from government

No one from the Progressive Conservative government was available to participate in this week's panel.

Austin said he's had some discussions with the government about privatization, but it's unclear where the conversations were left off.

"We've certainly pushed the file with government," Austin said.


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