The head of NB Liquor and Cannabis NB is defending a decision to launch a search for a new president without the help of professional recruiting firms, but opposition leader Roger Melanson sees it as the return of political interference in the agencies
"They're taking a major step back by doing this job internally," said Melanson
"The chair of the board, who's a former official agent of the previous campaigns, is creating a very significant perception that this is becoming political again."
NB Liquor and Cannabis NB have been without a permanent president since former chief executive Patrick Parent resigned in December, after just 15 months in the job.
The board of directors has begun a search for his replacement, but without hiring a third party executive search firm normally used for senior vacancies.
Instead board chair John Correia is confident applications received from the placement of online want ads will turn up the leader needed to run the $500 million a year organization
"The process is led by our board of directors, who are working closely with our HR (human resources) team," said Correia in a statement emailed to CBC News.
According to Correia, five members of the joint board that oversees both crown agencies will "review candidates, interview, evaluate and make a recommendation" on a new president to the full board of directors. It in turn will forward that recommendation to cabinet for final approval.
Presidential selection is a sensitive issue at NB Liquor, which has been saddled with patronage appointments in the past and has only had the authority to search for and recommend the selection of a non-political president for the last eight years.
The first two presidents selected under that system were recruited from the private sector with the help of executive search firms and Melanson believes, because of Correia's strong personal and political ties to the Higgs government, third party recruiters should be used again.
Correia is a former head fundraiser for the Progressive Conservative Party and personally backed Blaine Higgs in the 2016 party leadership race. Like Higgs, he also is a former employee of Irving Oil
"There's a lot of value in adopting an independent process," said Melanson.
High level vacancies in major government enterprises normally involve a national or regional search for candidates by firms that specialize in unearthing potential top executives, including those who might need some coaxing to leave their current organization.
Even when strong internal candidates exist for a top position, headhunters are still widely used to confirm they really are the best option available.
That happened last year when NB Power promoted vice president Keith Cronkhite to president after a search led by the national executive recruiting firm Boyden Canada.
Boyden unearthed more than 50 internal and external applicants for the position. Eight were interviewed before Cronkhite was selected in what the utility called an "exhaustive" process.
Human resources expert Pierre Battah, who once worked as an executive recruiter, said a full search led by a professional third party firm can often add credibility to whoever is chosen.
"To know that the person has stood up to the most rigorous competition of who's available now in the market, having that kind of good housekeeping seal of approval gives somebody a head start as they begin the role," said Battah.
"And what a marvellous confidence boost for the person too. You know going in you're the person because you stood up to the best of competition."
Battah said a large organization with a professional human resources department can execute a proper executive search on its own. He said the issue is whether people inside and outside the organization will accept the outcome as legitimate.
"The question I would have for them if I was advising them is, you know, do you feel that will stand scrutiny and be shown to be fair and appropriate?"
Correia insists the process being employed will be fair, thorough and impartial.
"We are confident we are doing our due diligence with the current search of our CEO," he said in his statement
Prior to 2013 the president of NB Liquor was a political and often highly partisan appointment.
In 2006 former New Brunswick Liberal Party executive director Dana Clendenning was appointed to the job by the Liberal government of Shawn Graham.
He was replaced in 2010 by Daniel Allain, who managed the successful Progressive Conservative Party election campaign that year. Allain is now a Dieppe MLA and the minister of local government in the cabinet of Premier Blaine Higgs.