Villain: Frances Nunziata
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Villain: Frances Nunziata

Nominated for: treating her colleagues like wayward schoolchildren.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

During city council’s first meeting of 2012, Councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) did something unexpected: he moved a motion to reverse tens of millions of dollars in proposed budget cuts by Mayor Rob Ford’s administration. Councillors began to rise and question Colle. As Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth) stood for her turn, council’s speaker, Frances Nunziata (Ward 11, York South Weston)—whose job is to preside over meetings objectively and ensure that debate is fair—acknowledged her by name before adding, “stick to the script.” When Fletcher replied that she didn’t have a script, the speaker insisted, “I’m sure everybody has a script. Just follow your script.”

Cynical sniping of this sort is an unfortunately common occurrence on the floor of council, particularly from veteran councillors. What a shame that Nunziata, the person charged to lead council meetings and maintain order, can’t resist such mean-spirited, partisan behaviour while sitting in the speaker’s chair.

Nunziata exhibits few of the qualities you might expect from someone in her role. For one thing, she often seems confused about or unconcerned with procedure; Nunziata recently ruled a motion by none other than Councillor Fletcher out of order after councillors had been debating it for nearly an hour. At the time, the speaker claimed she knew all along the motion was no good, but got distracted by the number of councillors who wanted to debate it. Nunziata often seems convinced that if she needs to interrupt a colleague mid-speech, the remainder of that person’s speaking time is forfeit and she may simply move on.

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.)

Nearly anyone who took in even a quarter-hour of council proceedings this year knows that Nunziata’s hallmark as speaker is her apparent burning contempt for many fellow elected officials. It’s particularly evident during a term where 14 rookie councillors, nearly a third of councillors, are usually polite, diplomatic, and unconcerned with lobbing insults and dismissals at their peers. Perhaps they haven’t been made cynical yet. And to returning Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), Nunziata said recently: “You don’t know how to tell the truth.” She seems to thrive on her endless verbal assault of perceived political foes, as if moralizing, editorializing, and comebacks are part of the job description.

Mere notions of respect, civility, and fairness are mocked by this speaker at almost every opportunity. This summer, in the wake of mass shootings downtown and in Scarborough, council was debating possible responses to the violence. As is sometimes the case, the discussion became unruly when councillors got confused about an item to be voted on. Nunziata’s response? “I guess some people don’t care about the shootings.”

See the other nominees in the Dividers category:

Sue-Ann Levy

Using her position to deride instead of reason.
  Michael Bryant

An astonishingly tone-deaf response to a tragic death.
  James Pasternak and QuAIA Alarmism

Undermining Pride Toronto, and Toronto’s commitment to diversity.

Unsubstantiated “Safety Concerns”

Using race as an indicator of crime.
  Yunel Escobar

Homophobic slurs and frustrating non-apologies.
  Doug Holyday

Trying to turn an already divided house even more against itself.

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