Manning MacDonald says he shouldn't have to pay a penalty for going on vacation while the house was in session. (CBC)

Long-serving Liberal MLA Manning MacDonald has resigned his seat in the Nova Scotia legislature just hours before a legislature committee was scheduled to meet about docking him a month's pay.

The Cape Breton South representative had already announced he wouldn't reoffer in the next election, but his decision to quit caught some of his caucus colleagues by surprise.

"Actually I'd like to consider it retiring rather than resigning," he said. "The fact now that the election is imminent in Nova Scoita, and the summer is upon us and... last week was my 20th anniversary."

On Wednesday he was scheduled to meet with the legislature management commission about money he earned while vacationing in Florida this spring instead of sitting in the legislature.

Before the holiday, MacDonald asked the Speaker's permission to be absent from the House and Gordie Gosse agreed, but Gosse says he didn't know MacDonald was taking the time off to vacation.

MacDonald missed 20 days out of the last 33 in the house. He said he was told he violated a section of management rules.

"In my 20 years there, there have been members coming and going all the time in the last 20 years and that rule has never been employed," said MacDonald.

He said the NDP is simply politicking by questioning the timing of the trip.

"It's nothing more than partisan politics. The current government is concerned about their future. They're using every vehicle at their disposal to try and discredit the other parties in the house."

Deputy Premier Frank Corbett made a similar claim about the Liberal's motivation, saying MacDonald's resignation was simply to avoid more controversy from the meeting with the commission.

In his resignation letter, MacDonald said he plans to donate a month's salary to the Every Woman's Centre and the Cape Breton Regional Hospital Foundation, but that he'll pay it back to the province if that's what the committee decides.

But now that he's no longer a member of the house, Speaker Gordie Gosse said he isn't sure the commission has the power to dock MacDonald's pay.

Long career

MacDonald leaves after 35 years in political life, during which time he won 11 elections.

Joe Gillis, a long-time Liberal in Sydney, said MacDonald's departure shouldn't overshadow his many years of political service - beginning when he was mayor.

"Getting Centre 200 here, the boardwalk, and infrastructure for the city," Gillis said. "Then when he went on to the provincial scene, he just carried that on, doing whatever he could to ensure the constituents were looked after."

MacDonald said his career highlight was meeting Terry Fox. But he said he'll miss dealing with his constituents on a daily basis.

"I hope that I've been a good advocate through the years."