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Toronto Councillor Karen Stintz, chair of the TTC, listens to council debate the make up of the transit commission board on March 5, 2012.Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

City councillors have taken the wheel from Toronto's mayor on the crucial transit file, removing five of his allies from the TTC board and returning Karen Stintz as its chair.

The defeat, which played out over a dramatic day-long council debate, sends a clear signal of what to expect later this month when council considers the fate of Mayor Rob Ford's long-promised Sheppard subway. It also calls into question Mr. Ford's ability to win future votes on key issues, with so many councillors now willing to line up against him.

Councillors voted 29-15 Monday in favour of a proposal by Ms. Stintz to dissolve the Ford-friendly TTC commission and replace it with a mix of seven councillors and four citizens. The newly formed commission leaves in place the four existing members who voted against ousting former TTC leader Gary Webster last month – Councillor Stintz, John Parker, Maria Augimeri and Peter Milczyn. Joining the board are centrist councillor Josh Colle, as well as two Scarborough politicians from the left – Raymond Cho and Glenn De Baeremaeker. The citizen members will be chosen later this year.

Ms. Stintz put her job as TTC chair on the line to ensure the city had a transit commission that supports council's plan to build above-ground light-rail transit. But she ended up winning the day: She was re-elected with the endorsement of 24 of her colleagues. The other candidate, Councillor Milczyn, received 19 votes, including one from the mayor.

Council rejected a plan backed by the mayor that would have booted all politicians from the board, replacing them with nine private citizens.

Mayor Ford, who sat in silence during the debate, took to the airwaves late Monday night to voice his opinion.

"I like Karen [Stintz] she's a nice lady, but on this issue I just totally disagree with her and so do the residents of this great city." Mr. Ford told AM640. "I'm a straight shooter. I don't feel comfortable in this new commission and this new direction the TTC is going now," he said, describing the new commission as "a turn to the hard left."

After the vote, his supporters – and critics – tried to sum up the meaning of the day's events for a council that does not see eye-to-eye with the mayor on such a major file.

"You can't ignore what occurred here today," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, a stalwart supporter of Mr. Ford, who lost his seat as TTC commissioner Monday.

"You have to look at the political realities of this council. This is not the council we had in the first few months of this mandate," he said, suggesting it is time for the mayor to slow down his agenda.

"If the mayor were to ask me my opinion, I'd say, 'You've got to be careful about the number of things you put in front of council and you've got to move a little more carefully.'"

Ms. Stintz, branded as a back-stabber last month by the mayor for her support of a light-rail transit plan, called on her councillors to put the battle over transit leadership behind them.

"With this new commission in place I think we can move forward in a very positive way," she said after the vote, surrounded by the new TTC commissioners. "I am very grateful and honoured that when I asked my colleagues for their support they gave it to me."

The TTC has been in turmoil since an extraordinary special meeting in February, when Ms. Stintz and 24 other councillors voted to revive most of the $8.4-billion light-rail network Mr. Ford scrapped at the start of his term.

The mayor called that meeting "irrelevant" – he argued the final decision lies with the province, which is paying for the projects – and has vowed to keep advocating for subways, especially on Sheppard Avenue East.

Council is set to vote on light-rail or subways for Sheppard on March 21.

Mr. Milczyn, who remains a part of the mayor's powerful executive team, chalked up the day's events as part of a learning curve for Mr. Ford. "It is a lesson in needing to build consensus around an issue,' he said. "We are just one year into a new mayor."

Mr. Milczyn said Mr. Ford has made more progress early in his first term than any other mayor. "Looking at what Mr. Ford has accomplished, if you go back to previous mayors, it pales in comparison," he said.

With reports from Kelly Grant and Marcus Gee