Liberal Senator Raymond Lavigne hasn't cast a vote in the Senate since he was charged with fraud 27 months ago, but he kept his $130,000 annual salary and the keys to his office.
These taxpayer-funded perks will be on the line when Mr. Lavigne's trial, scheduled to begin in Ottawa today, gets under way. He has pleaded not guilty to charges related to the allegations of misappropriation of Senate funds and obstruction of justice.
The trial is scheduled to last two weeks. If he is acquitted, Mr. Lavigne will be able to end his leave of absence and return to the Senate.
If convicted, he could lose the annual pay and the office, but start receiving an indexed parliamentary pension.
Mr. Lavigne has more than the minimum six years of service in the Senate and would be entitled to a pension under the Members of Parliament Retiring Allowances Act, even in the event of a conviction, according to Senate spokeswoman Karen Schwinghamer.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation said that Mr. Lavigne would be eligible for a combined pension of $80,700 a year after nine years as a Liberal MP and seven years as a senator.
"He could take it in prison," CTF spokesman Kevin Gaudet said. "Not bad for 16 years." Mr. Lavigne appeared in court last year for a preliminary hearing that was to have several witnesses. However, it lasted only half a day because Mr. Lavigne's lawyer agreed to go to trial.
Law-enforcement officials were critical of the legal tactic, which delayed the start of the trial and allowed Mr. Lavigne to stay on the Senate payroll for a potentially longer period.
Mr. Lavigne was a Liberal MP from 1993 to 2002, when then-prime-minister Jean Chrétien named him to the Senate to make way for former Quebec provincial minister Liza Frulla to enter the House of Commons.
"An energetic and dedicated MP, he has been an effective and persuasive voice for his constituents within caucus and in public," the press release announcing Mr. Lavigne's appointment said.
In 2006, a Senate committee alleged that Mr. Lavigne misused nearly $24,000 in Senate funds and sent a staff member to cut down trees with a chainsaw at his Quebec cottage in the Gatineau Hills.
Mr. Lavigne was removed from the Liberal caucus at that point, but he continues to identify himself as a Liberal senator, as is his prerogative.
In a statement in August, 2007, the RCMP alleged that Mr. Lavigne misappropriated Senate funds and instructed one of his employees "to carry out tasks unrelated to Senate duties."
"The charges were in connection with Lavigne's alleged use of Senate resources for personal gain," the statement said.
The obstruction of justice charge stems from Mr. Lavigne's conduct when the Senate started investigating his activities in 2006.
"It is alleged that he asked his employees to make false statements before and after the Senate started its investigation," RCMP Sergeant Monique Beauchamp said.
A spokeswoman for the Mounties said the charges carry maximum penalties of 14 years in jail.
The court is expected to deal with motions today and tomorrow, and start hearing witnesses on Wednesday.