York South-Weston councillor Frances Nunziata has let it be known that she would like to be appointed to the role of Council Speaker for the new term. She has dropped large hints that if given the nod by Mayor-elect John Tory, she would be happy to serve again.
To put it kindly, Ms. Nunziata was not an unmitigated success in her four years as referee and minder of 44 councillors and a mayor. It was her job to ensure that civility was the order of the day and to see that politicians respected her decisions and indeed the office itself. What we got was a seeming inability to control the more outspoken members of council leading to some shenanigans that were a boon to American talk shows. According to Desmond Cole in a December 12, 2012 article in the Torontoist,
Nunziata’s indifference to rules and inability to maintain order carried serious consequences this year. During a wild debate on the civic appointments process, the speaker asked Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) to retract potentially intimidating and impugning statements towards city ombudsman Fiona Crean. When Mammoliti refused, Nunziata suggested that he leave the chamber, as council rules require, but didn’t actually enforce her decision. Mammoliti’s ability to remain despite his behaviour was a message that Nunziata either didn’t know how to enforce the rules, or didn’t care to do so. (He later chose to leave of his own accord.)
Aside from the mayor and his brother, no one exemplifies the aggressively partisan and divisive nature of city council more than the speaker. Dumping her and elevating Deputy Speaker Parker to the position would set a much more civil, productive tone than we’ve been witness to for the past two and a half years.
In December 2013, after she abruptly ended a particularly raucous council meeting, The Globe and Mail reported,
… Mr. Minnan-Wong responded: “I think if she wants the rest of council to act with a certain level of decorum, leadership starts from the speaker’s chair.”
But on Monday, Ms. Nunziata denied that she was to blame for council’s behaviour, and that she allowed the mayor and Councillor Ford to get away with bad behaviour because of her relationship with the Ford family.
“I called the mayor and Councillor Ford numerous times. I asked Councillor Ford to apologize and the mayor to apologize. Both of them,” she said. “I think I’m being very fair to all members of council.”
Now it’s not as if York South-Weston is humming along as a bastion of prosperity. There are parts of Ward 11 that are as deprived and needy as any in Toronto. The ward needs a full time councillor who will spend every moment dedicated to making things better. The role of council speaker is an onerous burden. It might be a good idea to allow someone else to take on the role and for the councillor to devote more time to lobbying for the people of York South-Weston.