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Politics Will guilty plea be first step in restoring Nova Scotia's faith in MLAs?

Dave Wilson, a former Liberal MLA, pleaded guilty to fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents in a spending scandal that rocked Nova Scotia.

One down.

Nova Scotians who raged at evidence of provincial politicians from all parties abusing their expenses can take some measure of satisfaction in seeing a former legislator pleading guilty this week to fraud, breach of trust and uttering forged documents.

Dave Wilson, who sat as a Liberal and once served as caucus chair, will be sentenced in January. The former MLA did not speak to reporters or in court. His lawyer entered the plea on his behalf.

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Three other people – one former and two current politicians – face their own charges in the long-running scandal. The allegations stem from a probe by Auditor-General Jacques Lapointe that shook politics here.

Also facing criminal charges are Russell MacKinnon, who sat as both a Liberal and an Independent MLA, one-time Progressive Conservative MLA Richard Hurlburt and Trevor Zinck, a former New Democrat now sitting in the legislature as an Independent.

The public will have to wait months longer to find out the fates of all four men. Current politicians will be looking forward to that day for another reason: It may finally allow them to draw a line under the embarrassing scandal.

In an investigation covering three years of politicians' spending, Mr. Lapointe found a cozy and lax system that allowed MLAs to claim from the public purse thousands of dollars worth of questionable expenses.

These ranged from possibly credible purchases like cameras and computers to less obviously needed items such as the video game Dance Dance Revolution. Other purchases that had trouble passing the sniff test included custom-made furniture, a pricey espresso machine and an $8,000 generator installed in a private home. The latter was ostensibly for the emergency use of a nearby seniors' home, staff at which did not know of its existence.

"A scathing audit on MLA expenses between 2006 and 2009 revealed the Maritime MLAs had expensed just about everything under the sun," Colin Craig, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Prairie director, said last year at the group's tongue-in-cheek Teddy awards on government waste.

The revelations sparked a wave of public anger that left the political class scrambling.

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The RCMP followed Mr. Lapointe's investigation by laying dozens of charges against the four men. Politicians tightened the rules under which they operate and apologies were offered. Misspent money was, in some cases, paid back.

But anger took months to recede and many continue to question what shenanigans a probe of earlier years might turn up.

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