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Commuters ride a TTC subway west from Kennedy Station in Scarborough, Ontario Wednesday, September 25, 2013.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

The TTC's political leaders have narrowly voted in favour of the city-sanctioned subway route in Toronto's east end after flaring tempers and accusations of vote-buying, foreshadowing a fractious debate at the full city council next month.

The commissioners on the transit agency's board were being asked to support a city report that recommended extending the subway from Kennedy station to McCowan and then up to Sheppard, running underground.

This is one of three transit options being floated for the area, and the federal government offered $660-million this week to help with the project.

The province has pledged to finance and build a subway line from Kennedy to Scarborough City Centre, largely above ground. And still in place is the original agreement for a light-rail surface line of seven stops from Kennedy to Sheppard, also paid for by the province.

The vote to support the city's route came after lengthy debate and initially appeared to have failed. It then transpired that one commissioner had been confused and had not voted.

On a re-vote, the motion carried 6-4. However, the split in opinion was closer than it appeared.

Five of the 11 commissioners did not support the motion. Councillor John Parker was not allowed to abstain and left to avoid voting in the second round. He wants the original LRT plan, but preferred not to vote against the motion, he explained later, because that might be seen as supporting the province's route.

The issue moves to city council, which has already voted in favour of a subway, but now the city could be on the hook for up to $900-million. And a possible hint of that what will happen there came in a sharp exchange on Wednesday.

Midtown councillor Josh Matlow, who favours an LRT, was asked by his Scarborough colleague, the pro-subway Glenn De Baeremaeker, whether he would change his view if showed evidence a subway was needed. Mr. Matlow responded that the proof would have to be based on something more solid than "courting votes" in the area, which will be hotly contested in upcoming elections.

His fellow councillor appeared unfazed by the suggestion, but TTC chair Karen Stintz demanded that Mr. Matlow withdraw the remark. He said it he could not do so honestly and left, followed by Councillor Shelley Carroll.

"I didn't feel that that was a fair characterization of what we were doing," Ms. Stintz said after the meeting. "There's politics because it's public money. And I think that whenever you have public money, that the politicians have a role to play, because ultimately they're accountable for how the public money is spent."

In a phone interview later, Mr. Matlow said the evidence supports the LRT plan, which would have more stops, serve more people and go farther than either subway option.

"I don't know how any reasonable person can't see some politics playing out here," he said. "Is it reasonable to be offended by a suggestion that politics have a role in the transit debate? I think no."