VANCOUVER - Two high-profile British Columbians have thrown in their names for next year's provincial election: one who is the only person ever to beat Premier Christy Clark on a ballot and another who came within a whisker of defeating her last year.
Former Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan announced Friday he'll be seeking the nomination to run for Clark's Liberals in the riding of Vancouver-False Creek. Sullivan defeated Clark for the mayoral nomination of one of Vancouver's municipal parties seven years ago.
On the other side of the aisle, David Eby, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, was acclaimed as the Opposition NDP's candidate in Clark's own riding of Vancouver-Point Grey. Eby lost to Clark in a byelection last year by just 564 votes.
The two announcements come just six months before the next provincial election, scheduled for May 14, when the governing Liberals are expected to face an incredibly difficult fight against the Opposition New Democrats.
Sullivan, who became a quadriplegic at the age of 19 in a skiing accident, was elected mayor of Vancouver in 2005 after serving as a councillor for more than a decade. He's perhaps best known outside B.C. for the image of him waving the Olympic flag from his wheelchair during the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.
Sullivan won the 2005 mayoral nomination by defeating Clark — a former deputy premier who was seen as a potential star candidate for the Non-Partisan Association — by 81 votes. In 2008, he was forced out of the mayoral race by his own party, effectively ending his career in municipal politics.
On Friday, Sullivan worked quickly to dispel any notion that old rivalries remain between him and the premier. He said Clark was gracious in defeat seven years ago, even serving on his campaign committee, and he praised her job as premier.
"I think the government is going in the right direction and I would be proud to be a member of her team," Sullivan, 53, told a room full of reporters and supporters.
Clark has seen a list of caucus members and cabinet ministers announce they won't be running in the next election, including Kevin Falcon, George Abbott and Mary McNeil, whose departure opens up Vancouver-False Creek.
The premier has said she's working to attract a roster of fresh candidates to renew her party — and salvage its dismal popularity.
Sullivan said he met with the premier and she was open to his candidacy, but he declined to say whether he or the premier first broached the subject.
The Liberals won Vancouver-False Creek by a healthy margin in the 2009 election and the party's nomination there will likely be strongly contested. Sullivan said he anticipated a "mighty battle" for the nomination.
Lorne Mayencourt, a former member of the B.C. Liberal caucus who currently works for the party, has said he's considering seeking the nomination in the riding.
Sullivan said he hopes his involvement helps the party's fortunes, but he brushed aside polls that have put the Liberals behind the New Democrats.
"I've been around politics for a long time, and I do not believe the chatterers," said Sullivan.
"I believe the B.C. Liberal party is strong. I believe that by the time the election comes around, there will be quite a different situation."
David Eby's nomination in Vancouver-Point Grey was solidified on Thursday evening when the party's deadline for nominations there passed without anyone stepping forward to challenge him.
Eby ran an improbable campaign last year against Clark, who, as freshly elected Liberal leader, chose former premier Gordon Campbell's seat as an easy route into the legislature.
Clark won, but only barely. She captured 49 per cent of the vote, compared with 45 per cent for Eby.
In an interview, Eby insisted he can win next spring.
"There are a couple of differences," he said.
"Certainly, one is that people have seen Ms. Clark in action in terms of her leadership of the party and the province, and I'm sure they've formed some opinions on that. Second, there may well be a Conservative candidate who will be challenging Ms. Clark for some of her traditional base."
Norman Ruff, a retired political science professor at the University of Victoria, said Eby may be right. Ruff said Clark likely benefited in the byelection from the enthusiasm around her new leadership, and that will be gone this time.
"We shouldn't be too quick to say he's going to be a sacrificial lamb," said Ruff.
"In the byelection, she (Clark) had more of a glow around her that seems to have dimmed."
As for Sullivan, Ruff doubted his presence, if he wins the Liberal nomination, would do much to improve the Liberals' popularity.
"He has the advantage of name recognition and profile, but in terms of renewal and giving a new sense of direction for the party, Sam Sullivan is hardly someone to do that," said Ruff.
"It's a name from the past. She (Clark) has been criticized for not having a clear vision for the future, and she's not going to overcome that by drawing on old-style politicians."
Meanwhile, former CBC-TV reporter Steve Housser, who covered provincial politics during the New Democrat governments in the 1990s, is seeking the Liberal nomination in the Vancouver Island riding of Cowichan Valley. The riding is currently held by New Democrat Bill Routley.
The Liberals also announced Victoria business owner Christina Bates will challenge NDP incumbent Rob Fleming in Victoria-Swan Lake.