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Legislature calls for N.S. politician to resign after pleading guilty to fraud

Defence lawyer Lyle Howe speaks with client and Dartmouth North MLA Trevor Zinck at the Supreme Court prior to the start of the trial in Halifax on Monday, June 10, 2013.

Devaan Ingraham/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Premier Darrell Dexter is threatening to take the rare step of recalling the Nova Scotia legislature in a bid to expel an Independent politician who admitted to defrauding taxpayers.

Calls were coming from all sides for Trevor Zinck to resign as the member of the legislature for Dartmouth North after he pleaded guilty Monday to breach of trust and fraud over $5,000.

Dexter said he hoped Zinck would step down before the NDP government called on the Speaker to return members to the house for a vote on the politician's future.

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"I think that his conscience should guide him at this point and he should simply resign," Dexter told reporters Tuesday.

"Mr. Zinck ought to do the honourable thing and resign and not force himself through the further embarrassment of having the house recalled in order to deal with this, but if that is what is necessary then that is what we'll do."

Dexter said it's unlikely the legislature would be reconvened until after Zinck is sentenced. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7, at which point Zinck said he would provide more complete explanations on what happened to the funds at the centre of his court case.

Zinck was the last of four politicians to plead guilty to offences stemming from the province's spending scandal that erupted two years ago.

A charge of theft over $5,000 against Zinck was stayed in Nova Scotia Supreme Court.

Zinck admitted he made errors with his expenses and initially said he wanted to retain his seat. He said Tuesday that he wants to consult with various people before deciding what to do.

"There's a lot of things that I have to think over right now, there's a lot of people I have to meet and talk with," he said in an interview. "Then I would be making a decision based on those meetings."

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Liberal Opposition Leader Stephen McNeil and Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie both said Zinck should step down to avoid prolonging the matter and the costs associated with recalling the legislature.

"I think we need to do the right thing, which is force him to step down if he chooses not to, and that hopefully begins to restore faith in the institution of government," McNeil said.

A taxpayers' association echoed that sentiment.

House Speaker Gordie Gosse said he planned to meet Wednesday with deputy premier Frank Corbett to discuss the matter.

Gordon Hebb, chief legislative counsel, said recalling the house to expel a sitting member has not been used since 1986 when the legislature was called back for one day to introduce a special statute to force out Billy Joe MacLean.

MacLean, a cabinet minister in then-premier John Buchanan's Conservative government, pleaded guilty to filing false expense claims and lost his seat after legislation was introduced that immediately expelled a member convicted in a criminal case.

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He fought the decision and the Supreme Court overturned the automatic expulsion, though MacLean's removal stood.

Zinck confirmed in court he was given about $10,000 from the Speaker's Office to cover constituency expenses in 2008 and 2009, even though he didn't pay those owed money.

About half the money was supposed to go to a boys and girls club, while some was for a citizens association and a father looking for a hockey sponsorship for his son.

Zinck and three other politicians were charged in February 2011 following an investigation by the province's auditor general into constituency allowance spending. The three others pleaded guilty and were sentenced either to jail time or house arrest.

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