Yesterday’s Colmar Brunton poll for TVNZ had Act inching toward its best-ever election result, on 7%. With that, the one-man Act band would become a Seymour-led club of nine. So who the hell are they?
By now, David Seymour must be among our most recognisable political figures. Entering parliament fresh-faced in 2014 as the MP for Epsom, the Act Party leader has been the total caucus of the party for six years now.
If current polling is to be believed, that’s about to change. But while Seymour’s had the End of Life Choice Bill, gun law reform, free speech and twerking to help build his profile, the rest of the Act Party list are mainly unknowns.
Let’s meet the rest of the top nine.
2. Brooke van Velden
With the benefit of hoardings up and down the country, Act’s 27-year-old deputy Brooke van Velden is surely the next-most-recognisable candidate behind Seymour. But despite a major promotion in this year’s party rankings, she’s been a behind-the-scenes operator for the party for several years, widely admired for her work in lobbying to get support for Seymour’s End of Life Choice Bill.
Before that, it’s widely known she switched from supporting the Green Party to Act as a result of her economics studies at university. Having a young, progressive female as deputy (and on billboards across the country) helps to tone down Act’s image as a hard right party.
Van Velden told Policy she’s running for parliament in order to “transform mental health and addiction care by establishing one stand-alone, nation-wide mental health and addiction agency” She also says she’s a “committed social liberal”.
3. Nicole McKee
To the vast majority, Nicole McKee will be as unknown as the rest of Act’s list. But to those in the gun community, McKee is something of a celebrity.
Prior to entering politics, McKee was the voice of the country’s gun lobby as spokesperson for the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners. It gave her a strong media profile, and as someone who has interviewed her numerous times, I can vouch for her ability to answer questions quickly and eloquently.
With David Seymour’s opposition to the government’s gun legislation, McKee is a smart choice for third on the list. She has a large following among a community that feels alienated by the other parties and should give Act further opportunity to capitalise on the issue of gun law reform.
4. Chris Baillie
According to Act’s website, Chris Baillie is a full-time secondary teacher, former policeman with 14 years’ experience, and owner of a local hospitality venue. He’s aiming to raise Act’s profile in the Nelson electorate.
Earlier this year, Baillie was criticised for purportedly being a climate change denier. Nelson city councillor Rohan O’Neill-Stevens tweeted that Baillie had led a “climate hysteria skeptics” group at his school, and always put climate change in inverted commas.
Baillie has since denied being a denier, telling Stuff climate change was a problem, but there needed to be rational discussion. “At the moment we’re being bombarded by hysteria,” he said at the time.
5. Simon Court
Act’s environmental spokesperson Simon Court rounds out the top five. He’s a civil and environmental engineer with 23 years’ experience in roles for the private sector and local government.
His Twitter appears to mainly be David Seymour retweets, although I note he’s a fan of The Spinoff’s Youth Wings series (which you can watch here).
David Seymour has claimed that Court would raise the standard of environmental debate in parliament. At this stage, he does not appear to have led any “climate hysteria skeptics” groups, so that’s probably a good start.
6. James McDowall
It’s at about this stage of the party list that it becomes quite difficult to find anything online about the candidates, aside from their candidacy for Act.
Number six James McDowall considers himself a classical liberal who’s sceptical of big government (although is running for, and will possibly be elected to, big government).
Based in Hamilton, McDowall has led the development of Act’s firearm policy after David Seymour became the only voice in parliament opposed to the government’s 2019 legislation.
He told Policy he wants to “kickstart the economy post-Covid-19 by supporting SMEs, creating jobs, and safely reopening the border”. He’s an advocate for lower taxes while reducing government debt, and wants to revolutionise the mental health sector by centralising funding and promoting choice.
The Act website says he owns several small businesses, including an immigration law firm, and works for a large NGO in the mental health sector.
7. Karen Chhour
Act’s number seven Karen Chhour is a self-employed mother of four who has lived on Auckland’s North Shore for the last 30 years.
Chhour’s vocal about her experience as a foster child and participated in the launch of Act’s mental health policy during the recent Covid-19 lockdown in Auckland.
“For years I have been frustrated watching the numbers for homelessness, child poverty, abuse and mental health rise,” she told Policy.
“There seems to be no party that is willing to have open and honest discussions around these issues. Act will have those difficult conversations to find solutions that are more than just throwing more money at the problem. We need to set up targeted help and put the money where it is needed the most.”
8. Mark Cameron
Northland-based Mark Cameron is a dairy farmer in Ruawai, and has lived in the region for 30 years. Earlier this week, Cameron helped launch his party’s rural policies, including a pledge to scrap subsidies for forestry investment and let regional councils set freshwater rules.
His priorities include tax cuts, reducing public spending and debt reduction.
9. Toni Severin
Rounding out the top nine is Toni Severin, based in Christchurch East. The Act Party website says she is a licensed firearm owner who “understands the impact of the gun law reforms the government implemented last year have had on law-abiding citizens in New Zealand”.
Severin was a qualified lab technician at the Canterbury DHB for 14 years, and runs a business with her husband.
There is little to be found online from Severin, but her largely abandoned Twitter account shows she loves wreaths and Richard Dean Anderson.