Brian Johns’ roots in the grocery business run deep, though his roots in the Liberal Party run even deeper.
The long-time partner in Vince’s Market, an independent three-store chain north of Toronto, has just been named president of the Liberal Party of Ontario.
Johns, 37, started working part time at Vince’s Market in Sharon, Ont. when he was just 15, but by then he’d already helped one of his Scout leaders win a seat for the Liberals in the 1993 federal election with canvassing and general volunteer work. He’s been a Liberal Party supporter and volunteer ever since. “Our new party president is someone who comes from the grassroots, with the experience of running campaigns in rural and suburban ridings,” said party leader and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, in a release.
While Johns was intrigued by politics at an early age, he was also a young entrepreneur in the making. At 19, Johns was awarded a Subway franchise in nearby Newmarket, Ont. but stayed close to Vince’s owner Carmen Trimarchi, who he considered a mentor. By 2001, Trimarchi had invited Johns to become a partner in Vince’s—he’s been a core piece of Vince’s success since then, along with Carmen’s son Giancarlo.
The chain added a third location, in Newmarket in 2009 and another new location is planned for this fall in Tottenham, Ont. Vince’s was also named one of Canada’s Best Managed Companies by Deloitte and CIBC earlier this year and has been recognized multiple times by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.
The chain, which employs approximately 300 people, has long had a reputation for its fresh produce and retains its small-store feel with Johns and the Trimarchis deeply involved in running the business. Carmen goes to the Ontario Food Terminal five days a week to select produce (as he has for more than 40 years), while the younger Trimarchi and Johns are active around the stores, pitching in whenever necessary. “I am happy to jump in and cut meat if I need to,” said Johns.
As party president, Johns will be responsible more for the infrastructure of the party than policy strategy: ensuring local associations are running smoothly, supporting fundraising initiatives, along with the candidate nomination process and so on.
“I appreciate Brian’s hard work, his enthusiasm and his commitment to modernizing our Party,” said Wynne. “I’m very pleased to have Brian stepping into this role.”
And while it’s almost certain to be a busy and challenging year ahead as the party—which has formed the Ontario government since 2003—prepares for what’s expected to be a tough election campaign next June, Johns said the new position won’t take him away from his full-time responsibilities with Vince’s.
“Nothing changes at the store,” he said, adding that he’d been serving most recently as a vice-president of the party’s executive council. “It’s just kind of shifting positions.”
When asked about Wynne’s decision to gradually increase minimum wage to $15 an hour, Johns said he supported the approach
“to an open consultation process. I believe it is important that government seek input from all stakeholders, including small businesses like grocers. The Premier has signaled her commitment to small businesses by promising to bring forward initiatives in support of a transition this fall.”