If you mix up these Vancouver political veterans, you will get pranked

Great friends and political adversaries, Sam Sullivan and Tim Louis love needling each other

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Sam Sullivan and Tim Louis are polar opposites politically.

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“He’s right of Ghengis Khan and I’m left of Che Guevara,” is how Louis puts it.

Both are quadriplegics and get around in a wheelchair. So people often mistake one for the other, even though they don’t resemble each other at all.

“He’s six-foot-two on a poor day, and I may be five-feet on a good day,” said Louis, 63. “He weighs maybe 200 pounds when dry, I weigh maybe 90 pounds wet. I have a beard, he’s clean-shaven, blah blah blah. But people confuse us!”

It happens so often, in fact, they have a little routine worked out.

“We have each other’s cell number,” said Louis, “and if we’re out and about and somebody comes up to us and calls us by the other’s name, we immediately get on the phone,” and get the person they think they’re greeting.

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“This is our arrangement. No matter how busy the other is, they will take the call and then we’ll improvise, having great fun.”

It may boggle the mind of anyone who ever saw them jostling on Vancouver council, but former NPA mayor Sullivan and former COPE councillor Louis have become great friends.

Sam calls Tim “Leon Trotsky,” after one of the leaders of the Russian Revolution. Tim calls Sam “Milton Friedman,” after the free market economist.

They even have “code names” for their spouses: Frida Kahlo for Tim’s partner Penny, Rose Friedman for Sam’s partner Lynn.

The code names came about after Sullivan phoned Louis one day.

“He answered the phone on speaker phone, and had a room full of revolutionaries that were trying to plot the downfall of the government or something,” Sullivan recalls with a chuckle.

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“Then he hears my voice, and I could tell he was audibly uncomfortable, having me on the speaker phone. I figured it out and said ‘maybe I’ll call you back.’ From then he would call me Milton, and I would call him Leon.”

Sam Sullivan and his partner Lynn Zanatta in 2005.
Sam Sullivan and his partner Lynn Zanatta in 2005. Photo by Gerry Kahrmann /Province

They’ve known each other forever.

“I knew of him through disability activism,” said Sullivan, who turns 62 on Nov. 13.

“He was always quite a s — disturber as a young radical activist. He had this long hair that almost went down to the ground behind his wheelchair. We both used to take the Lions Club transit vans, they’d pick us up and bring us to school and such.

“One driver told me there was this guy named Tim Louis who wouldn’t pay his bills because he thought the transit should be publicly provided. Eventually they forced him to pay, and he said ‘you can come in and take the money, it’s inside.’ So they went in and there was 30 or 40 jars with pennies.”

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One of Sullivan’s favourite memories of Louis is from a police briefing in the basement of city hall. At the time, Louis was getting around in an ancient electric wheelchair with a distinctive buzzing sound.

“The police were all there in uniform and everything, and you could hear his wheelchair coming from down the hall,’ said Sullivan. “And I could see all these big guys starting to sweat and get really tense. Then Tim comes around the corner, barely moving, this quadriplegic. It was quite remarkable to see the change in composure of these pretty big guys with guns.

“I thought, ‘wow, this Tim Louis, he strikes fear into all sorts of people.’”

For his part, Louis thinks that while Sullivan’s “politics are abhorrent,” he knows he “would give you the shirt off his back.”

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So they love each other’s company.

They like to needle each other, though.

“I give (Tim) a hard time, because I’m the guy who lives in a rented apartment, and my whole life has been involved in the charitable sector,” said Sullivan. “He owns a nice home on the west side and he has renters and he owns his office. He’s really a quintessential capitalist.”

They have both done well through COVID. Louis has a thriving law practice that he’s been running out of his home, while Sullivan has been making videos of civic history you can see on YouTube. He also put on one of his acclaimed public policy salons a few weeks ago.

Tim Louis at home with partner Penny Parry before they leave for COPE headquarters to await the 2011 civic election results, on Nov. 19, 2011.
Tim Louis at home with partner Penny Parry before they leave for COPE headquarters to await the 2011 civic election results, on Nov. 19, 2011. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

Their favourite story about being mistaken for one another? That would be a charity event put on by Tim’s partner Penny (aka Frida Kahlo) at the Vancouver Museum/Planetarium a few years ago.

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“We had little nibbles and whatever,” said Louis. “Then Milton and I — code name Leon — decided to wander around. The aisles weren’t wide enough for two wheelchairs, so we had to go single file. I’m in the lead, as I should be, and he’s following.

“In the distance, there’s a woman and she turns and looks at me with this beautiful smile. I’m thinking ‘this is great, a woman making eyes at me, wow wow wow.’

“She walks up to me: ‘Sam! How are you?’ She’s in front of me and Milton (Sam) is behind me. I turn 90 degrees to my left so she is on my immediate right and Milton is on my immediate left. And I say to her without blinking an eye: ‘I’m great! Let me introduce you to my friend, Tim.’

“She comes around and walks up to him and just as she’s about to shake his hand, she freezes, goes white as a ghost, and runs away. And the two of us are howling.”

Who says politics can’t be fun?

jmackie@postmedia.com

Sam Sullivan (left) and Tim Louis in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 13, 2021.
Sam Sullivan (left) and Tim Louis in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG
Sam Sullivan (without Tim Louis) in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 13, 2021.
Sam Sullivan (without Tim Louis) in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG
Tim Louis (without Sam Sullivan) in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 13, 2021.
Tim Louis (without Sam Sullivan) in Vancouver, B.C., Oct. 13, 2021. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

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