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Can this man take the Ontario wine industry to the next level? Meet Richard Linley, the new boss of the Ontario Wine Council

Richard Linley Photo - WCOIf the Ontario wine industry is going to move forward its success rests largely on the shoulders of Richard Linley, the newly hired president of the Ontario Wine Council.

Linley, a married, 34-year-old father of a young boy who lives in north Toronto, doesn’t take the helm of the wine council until Nov. 24 but will arrive with a lot on his plate.

Linley is currently the senior director, Government Affairs at the Canadian Beverage Association (CBA) where he has national responsibility for the development and execution of government relations strategies in the areas of legislative and regulatory affairs.

Prior to joining the CBA, Linley spent over seven years working in politics with the Ontario government. He was directly responsible for advising Members of Parliament and Cabinet Ministers on policy developments at the Ministries of Agriculture and Food, Natural Resources and Environment. He holds a Master of Public Policy from Simon Fraser University and a Bachelor of Political Science from the University of Ottawa. 

“Richard’s extensive knowledge of the Canadian beverage industry and strong understanding of the public policy environment make him an incredible asset for this organization,” said Allan Schmidt, Chair of the Wine Council of Ontario.

“We look forward to leveraging Richard’s significant skills in order to build on our industry’s growth and success of recent years,” added Schmidt.

page_header-05While Linley’s resume makes him perfectly suited to replace Hillary Dawson, who left the wine council earlier this year, he’s not yet ready to comment on the extensive file that he faces when he begins work in a few weeks.

“I had a pre-existing interest in the wine industry,” he told me in an interview. “But I need a better understanding of it all.”

His first task will be to sit with the wine council board and map out priorities going forward for the overseeing body that represents the majority of VQA wineries in Ontario.

Linley is familiar with the Ed Clark report that focused on three big government-owned enterprises — OPG, Hydro and the LCBO — and urged Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne open up the retail end of the government monopoly on selling alcohol in this province.

our wineBut he said he still needs to study the report, talk to the board and plot out the next steps for the wine council to take.

The wine council has made it clear that its members want change in the retail sector and greater access for consumers to purchase their wines and has lobbied hard under the previous president, Dawson, to make that happen through private wine shops.

The wine council tried to make it an election issue but none of the political parties would commit to that fight.

Clark’s report, which you can read here, seems to support the notion of some sort of private retail stream but Wynne has not made an announcement that it will become reality yet.

Linley seems genuinely excited to start his new role with the wine council and will commute from his home in Toronto two or three times a week to the council office in Vineland, next door to the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre.

“We’re avid wine drinkers,” he tells me, and he and his wife make frequent trips to Niagara and occasionally to the Okanagan Valley. Their tastes lean toward Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer, but Linley says he has a lot to learn about wine.

“I hope my tastes will develop,” he says, “we have a wine rack with five bottles in it.”

His personal Twitter account is @SheaLinley where he describes himself as a “Stratford native with big love for tennis and politics. All opinions are my own.”

He’ll need a big serve to achieve the goals wineries in Ontario are facing right now.