The first attempt by councillors to challenge Toronto Mayor John Tory's authority has ended before it got off the ground, with Councillor Maria Augimeri's deciding not to challenge his choice to reappoint Frances Nunziata to the speaker's job.
Ms. Nunziata is a Ford loyalist has been criticized for allowing politics to affect her role as speaker over the past four years and for failing to keep order in the council chamber. Mr. Tory has promised to set a new tone of co-operation and civility as mayor and several councillors felt that could not happen with Ms. Nunziata remaining in the speaker's chair.
But Wednesday morning, hours before city council was set to vote on the speaker appointment, Ms. Augimeri said she had a change of heart, deciding to stand for chair of her local North York Community Council. City rules prevent any councillor from being speaker while they are also the chair of a standing committee or the TTC.
A tearful Augimeri said she had the support of 19 of her fellow councillors, some of whom were willing to risk losing their own appointments as chairs of committees to supporter her. She would have needed the support of a majority of councillors – 23 votes – to overturn Mr. Tory's wishes.
"I put my name forward as speaker after a number of my colleagues came to me and asked me to run in order to present a more civil tone at council, in order to make things more amicable and present a non-bullying face of this council," she said.
Shortly after Ms. Augimeri announced her decision, Ms. Nunziata embraced the councillor in front of reporters.
"I'm very pleased," Ms. Nunziata said, describing it as a "relief" to no longer face a challenger for the speaker's seat. "I have a lot of respect for Maria, I always have."
Ms. Nunziata said that, at the mayor's request, she will be observing the decorum at provincial and federal legislatures. "I think there's lessons to be learned, and we could maybe observe what the rules are in how the meetings are conducted."
Ms. Nunziata acknowledged that the previous term of council was full of "disruptions," but pledged to run calmer meetings this time around.
"I think what makes a difference and what we need to have is respect for each other," she said. "Hopefully we won't have these disruptions in this term and it'll be much calmer. I know that that will happen."
Deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, meanwhile, defended the mayor's controversial decision to reappoint the divisive councillor to the role.
"Councillor Nunziata, the previous speaker, was very enthusiastic about wanting to continue in her role, and I think the mayor recognized that," he said. "I think there's a certain recognition that we can always improve and refine our roles and duties, and she's recognized that. Hopefully that will add more decorum and more civility to council as a whole."
The deputy mayor also addressed criticism of the mayor for shutting out the left from executive committee roles.
"You can't make everybody happy," he said. Mr. Minnan-Wong recalled being sidelined on the community services committee as a conservative councillor under David Miller's mayoralty. "I wasn't happy about that, but you can't always get what you want."