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Commuters board a TTC subway car at Kennedy Station in Scarborough on Sept. 25, 2013.KEVIN VAN PAASSEN/The Globe and Mail

An attempt to derail subway expansion in Scarborough was stopped late Thursday during a marathon council meeting after the speaker prevented votes on a series of motions.

Councillor Frances Nunziata caused a small uproar in the chamber when she capped a stormy debate by saying the city could be sued if they followed through on a trio of moves to defund the subway. She was promptly challenged that the votes should be allowed.

Her ruling was upheld by a narrowly divided council, with a 23-22 vote. That meant that $12-million earmarked for preliminary work on the controversial project was included when the budget was approved  in another vote later the same night.

The project, which began as a light rail line, was changed last year to a subway.  Preliminary work is to begin this year and, in a last-ditch attempt, midtown councillor Josh Matlow tried to have the money held in reserve until more questions are answered. He made no bones about his desire to kill what he called a "boondoggle," but said his motion would only pause spending on it.

The move provoked furious responses from some councillors, who said it was an embarrassment to keep revisiting the debate and that people in the east end suburb deserve the same type of transit other residents enjoy.

"Don't you think it's up to the residents of Scarborough, not you, to decide what they want in Scarborough," demanded Ms. Nunziata.

"I believe actually it's up to every resident of Toronto who's about to see their taxes go up," Mr. Matlow shot back.

Stopping the spending would have effectively halted the project for now. The Toronto Transit Commission has said they can't fund the work from their existing budget and a spokeswoman for Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, confirmed Thursday that they wouldn't do anything on the Scarborough extension unless the TTC takes the lead.

Two other councillors later added their own motions, seeking to divert the subway money to other spending priorities. All were ruled out of order by Ms. Nunziata, but not before prompting a new round of outrage from councillors favouring the project.

Glenn De Baeremaeker was apoplectic at what he characterized as a slight of Scarborough residents from those who sneer at the area from their "perch downtown."

"No honour are in these motions," he thundered. "These motions are a declaration of war on the people of Scarborough. There will be consequences."

Fellow Councillor Karen Stintz, who is planning to run for mayor, warned that there was no going back to an LRT. All that would happen if council defunds the subway is that the project would go ahead without city participation or input on a shorter route, she claimed.

"That's the choice you can make today," she said. "Does Scarborough get a transit network that goes to Scarborough or does Scarborough get a two-stop 'stubway' on an [alignment] that is not yet proven?"

The project is intended to replace the aging Scarborough Rapid Transit, a rail line that officials say is nearing the end of its life.

An LRT in the area was to be funded entirely by the province. Amid continuing anti-light-rail sentiment in some parts of council and a provincial by-election, that decision was re-opened and a subway approved instead. The more expensive option will be funded by the province, the federal government and through a generation-long increase in the municipal tax rate. The first part of that increase – 0.5 per cent – was approved last night.

The decision was controversial, though. And with environmental assessments yet to begin on the subway proposal, it remains unclear ultimately what will be built in the area.

"We can't seem to make a decision and stand by that decision," Councillor Mike Del Grande bemoaned during Thursday's debate.

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