British Columbia·Profile

Sam Sullivan: a candidate defined by ideas — and limited by them, too

A profile of Sam Sullivan, one of six candidates looking to become next leader of the B.C. Liberal Party.

Pro-HST, health-privatizing, harm-reduction candidate is fighting for B.C. Liberal leadership on his terms

B.C. Liberal Party leadership Sam Sullivan speaks to CBC Vancouver on Jan. 24, 2018. (Christer Waara/CBC)

He was an underdog before he became mayor of Vancouver — and Sam Sullivan knows he's an underdog again.

"I may be a long shot, but I've been certainly feeling a big lift in the party in the last few days," he said, as he looks to find momentum in his campaign to become leader of the B.C. Liberal Party. 

"People are seeing the ideas and thinking very seriously about my candidacy."

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan waves the Olympic flag and invites spectators to "come and play" in 2010. (Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images)

For those in the Lower Mainland, Sullivan's biography is well known. A quadriplegic who became a longtime councillor, he defeated Christy Clark for the NPA mayoral nomination, became one-term mayor of Vancouver from 2005 to 2008, and then MLA for Vancouver-False Creek in 2013. 

And while Sullivan often brings up his experience as mayor, it's his particular commitment to pushing unique ideas in cities that has long defined him as a politician.  

"It's in the urban areas that we suffered this lack of trust, and I think it's reflected in the fact we didn't put forward an urban agenda, and that is one of the reasons I got involved," he said. 

HST and housing

But one reason Sullivan's run to become Liberal leader has struggled to gain traction is that his ideas aren't especially popular or easily defined along party lines.

He advocates a return to a harmonized sales tax (HST), which was rejected by B.C. voters in 2011, arguing that it's the clear choice of economists around the world. 

"They say because we have the old antiquated tax, our children will be less prosperous than they would have been if we had the HST. So I think having prosperity for your children is a pretty good argument."

He also cites economists when explaining his opposition to a higher minimum wage and intervention in the Metro Vancouver housing market

"Rudyard Kipling in 1890 bought a couple of lots at Fraser and 11th. And he was doing it because he knew a number of people who were investing in Vancouver real estate. I myself live in an apartment owned by a Taiwanese couple, and I've had 12 years of rent out of them. Is that a bad thing? I don't know. Not for me, for sure," he said. 

"It's a popular destination, and we have more and more immigration, which I think is a wonderful thing. Do we want to suppress demand? You know, I think the thing we control is supply. We control supply," he said.

'Now's the time to put out ideas'

At the same time, Sullivan advocates a partial privatization of B.C.'s health-care system and releasing medical data for health officials and entrepreneurs. Expanding systems that prescribe opioids to drug users. And he told the pro-life group RightNow he wanted to "restore Christianity to a central and positive role in society." 

"Christianity used to be a force, people would look up to Christian thinkers and leaders, and there was a time when they gave really good advice," he said, expanding on his comments. 

"And now, we have groups that are essentially marginalizing Christians by taking on these issues that are pushing Christianity to the fringes."

It's not the most conventional mix of policies, but Sullivan has never been a conventional politician.

And believes he has one more upset in him.

"This is a party fight. It's to fight for the party, for the heart and the future of the party," he said. 

"And so there is no party line, there's no leader, now is the time to put out the ideas, and to really advocate for the direction that each of us believes in."

Justin McElroy is profiling all six B.C. Liberal leadership candidates as the party prepares to vote for a new leader Feb. 3.

About the Author

Justin McElroy


Justin is the Municipal Affairs Reporter for CBC Vancouver, covering local political stories throughout British Columbia.