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letter from n.s.

Independent Nova Scotia MLA Trevor Zinck is shown in the Halifax legislature in a 2010 file photo.ANDREW VAUGHAN/The Canadian Press

Trevor Zinck will get his pension.

Facing charges related to a long-running expenses scandal that has tarred Nova Scotia politicians of all stripes, the Dartmouth MLA this month passed his fifth anniversary in office.

He is now eligible for a pension, regardless of whether he is eventually convicted.

It's a small pension - estimated at about $21,500 - but the milestone is certain to renew outrage among citizens already angry at what they see as widespread political greed.

Waves of criticism have poured in for more than a year, since Auditor-General Jacques Lapointe blew the lid off a cozy system in which politicians met secretly to set expense rules that allowed them to bill for items such as cameras and video games.

Many politicians whose purchases were flagged by the auditor claimed, correctly, that they were simply following the rules as they were at the time. A number nonetheless paid back the money. Some argued that charges laid against Mr. Zinck and three former politicians indicate no others had broken the law.

But inappropriate behaviour by so many politicians played into the hands of cynics who view elected officials as pigs at the trough. And that appearance of greed helped fan criticism that political pensions were too rich, eventually prompting the Nova Scotia Speaker to launch an independent review.

Public anger about the two issues - expenses and pensions - has been brought together and sustained by the case of Mr. Zinck.

Mr. Zinck, a former New Democrat now sitting as an Independent, was kicked out of his caucus last year for what the NDP called irregularities in his constituency expenses. The Speaker said the MLA had been reimbursed for bills that had not been paid. The news got worse for Mr. Zinck, who has admitted to gambling and drinking problems, when he was charged in February with fraud, theft and breach of trust.

He refused to resign and insisted it was business as usual at his constituency office. The widespread assumption that he was holding on until his fifth anniversary infuriated many and sparked renewed debate about pension eligibility.

"Once someone is convicted of a crime for misconduct directly related to their public duties as an MLA they should forfeit their right to receive an MLA pension," the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has argued.

But Mr. Zinck, who did not return calls from The Globe and Mail this week, told a nobler story in April about why he had stayed.

"Those people, those individuals that might have some questions, should think about the reasons why somebody would stick around and take the kind of beating that I've taken," he said to Global Maritimes. "I believe that I'm innocent and I'm looking forward to clearing my name."

He is due in court again next week. Time will tell if he continues to maintain his innocence.

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