Full steam ahead on Cannabis NB privatization despite good financial report card
FREDERICTON -- The Blaine Higgs government is moving full steam ahead on its quest to have someone else to take on the selling of recreational cannabis in New Brunswick.
"I think this will buy them some time in terms of public opinion, to try to get it right," said UNBSJ political scientist J.P. Lewis. "That's some of the benefits of being a new government is that if you're dealing with problems and if those problems happen, under the previous government, you don't own it as much politically."
One of the province's largest licensed marijuana supplier says it found out at the same time as everyone and Organigram says it's too early to say if the company will make a move.
Any operator, they say, will need a great deal of retail experience and pretty deep pockets.
In an interview with CTV's Steve Murphy on Thursday night, the finance minister said repeatedly:
"Government should not be in the business of business," Ernie Steeves said.
He was then asked if the same applies for NB Liquor, another Crown corporation and said he would look at an offer if one was made.
Those remarks were followed Friday by a better looking bottom line for the province's pocketbook.
Second-quarter results show this year's projected surplus sits at $88.1 million and that the net debt could decrease by $232.7 million for the first time since 2006.
This move toward privatizing cannabis sales comes days before MLAs return to the legislature. A new session begins next week, marking the beginning of a second year for this minority government.
"Presenting better government coffers is directly within what Higgs said he was going to do," Lewis said. "Now the other side of it is, if there's cuts to spending or cutbacks to programs, where do the politics go there?"
The finance minister hinted at that Friday, saying that even with the positive results, government is not in a position to spend more.
Steeves says the government needs to get its fiscal house in order to be able to afford essential services in the long term.
The Tory government says revenue is projected to be $101.6 million higher than budgeted, mainly due to a $72-million increase in personal income tax revenue and a $44.6-million increase in revenue related to new federal funding.
However, total expenses are also projected to be higher than budgeted by $36.6 million, due to $38.7 million in additional expenses related to the new federal funding.
Cannabis-related revenue is down $14.2 million and tobacco tax revenue is down $12 million due to lower than projected volumes.
The Department of Finance and Treasury Board projects real GDP growth for New Brunswick of 0.6 per cent for 2019, unchanged from the forecast in the 2019-20 Budget. The average of private sector forecasts is now 0.9 per cent.
With files from The Canadian Press.