The decision on whether Cannabis NB will be sold, or kept, draws closer as the government continues negotiations with a potential suitor.
According to Cheryl Hansen, clerk of the executive council and deputy minister of the Department of Finance and Treasury Board, the province has been in negotiations with a buyer since the fall.
“In October of 2020 the negotiations started with the top-ranked proponent and we are in the final stages of negotiations at this time,” Hansen told the public accounts committee on Thursday.
The government issued a request for proposals in November of 2019 after Cannabis NB lost millions in its first year of operation. But the last 15 months have seen a change in fortunes for the once-ailing Crown corporation.
So far this fiscal year it’s moved $62 million worth of product for a net profit of $8.3 million. Total profits are expected to eclipse $10 million after more than a year straight of profitability.
But the advanced stage of negotiations does not mean a sale is inevitable. Hansen said the province can still elect to keep Cannabis NB in the end.
“Because we’re negotiating now does not imply that this is a done deal and this will be sold,” she said.
Interim Liberal leader Roger Melanson is not convinced, however.
“You don’t negotiate if you don’t want to get to the original purpose, which was to sell Cannabis NB,” he said.
Premier Blaine Higgs admitted that newfound profitability was one of the factors slowing down the request for proposal (RFP) process in December, saying the province was looking to determine if the increase in sales was sustainable, or a pandemic-driven mirage.
Melanson believes the advanced stage of negotiations despite the profits for provincial coffers suggests that the Crown corporation will ultimately be sold.
“The government knows that and they’re still negotiating,” he said.
“I think we can make an interpretation here that by still negotiating, the government wants to sell Cannabis NB.”
The RFP process was initially scheduled to wrap up by the spring of 2020, but Hansen says work was delayed from March to June due to the pandemic.
The provincial election this summer further delayed the process.