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Senator James Cowan, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, talks to reporters in the Foyer of the Senate on Parliament Hill Thursday May 23, 2013 in Ottawa.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Politics Insider delivers premium analysis and access to Canada's policymakers and politicians. Visit the Politics Insider homepage for insight available only to subscribers.

Justin Trudeau invites the media to ask him anything as he takes a break from mainstreeting in downtown Charlottetown. He has nothing to hide – not when or where or how often he smoked marijuana or what he thinks about Quebec Premier Pauline Marois' secular charter.

This is part of the Liberal Leader's push to show that he's a new kind of leader – open, fresh and operating differently than his Conservative and NDP counterparts.

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Another piece of his transparency drive is being revealed Wednesday when Liberal Senate Leader Jim Cowan and House Leader Dominic LeBlanc roll out for their caucus colleagues a new plan to disclose all of their spending.

Every three months, beginning in September, Liberal MPs and Senators will have to post publicly on the party website how much they spent on travel and hospitality and who they may have wined and dined all on the taxpayer's dime. Be sure there will be some grumbling about this change.

But they have little choice. Mr. Trudeau has been driving this issue since he was first elected last April. And in the spring, Mr. Cowan and Mr. LeBlanc put together a team of MPs, Senators and staffers to devise a plan. What they will present at the closed door caucus meeting – held at a picturesque Prince Edward Island golf resort for their annual summer caucus retreat – is a template that will shine an even brighter spotlight on what their MPs and Senators spend on travel and hospitality.

For Mr. Cowan, especially, it has been a tough time in the upper chamber. Senators are not popular but the fact that several of them, including a Liberal Senator, have been caught in an expense scandal has only made things worse.

"Many people assume that everybody is doing the same thing," he says. "And they're not."

His aim now is to lead by example. The hope is that public disclosure by the Liberals will force the other parties into doing the same.

Last spring, Mr. Trudeau tried to pass several motions to make spending by MPs and in the Commons more transparent. He had even asked to open up the secretive Board of Internal Economy that meets in private to oversee the chamber's spending. His plan was defeated.

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But more is at stake for Mr. Cowan than hospitality expenses. He and the 32 other Liberal Senators are fighting for their survival. The Senate scandal has again raised serious questions about the relevancy and cost of the upper chamber.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on his Senate reform proposals, including whether the chamber should be abolished. In his most recent cabinet shuffle he purposely did not include a Senator, a move that further diminishes the importance of the chamber.

NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair is travelling across the country on a campaign to roll up the red carpet and abolish the Senate.

The Liberals believes the Senate should be improved but more discussion is needed. That's because as the third party rump, the Grits have nearly as many Senators – 33 – as elected MPs with 34. The upper chamber gives them a much-needed political critical mass.

More than that, for Atlantic Canadians, such as Senator Cowan and Mr. LeBlanc (and a region where the Liberals are still strong), the Senate provides a voice.

"You can't just snap your fingers and eliminate the Senate," said Mr. Cowan, who represents Nova Scotia. "What would that do for us living in Atlantic Canada … the Senate gives us as Atlantic Canadians a disproportionate influence at the national level. Why would we in Atlantic Canada give up anything? I mean, why would we do that?"

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He notes that Atlantic Canada has more than a quarter of the seats in the Senate and fewer than 10 per cent when the House of Commons expands from 308 seats to 338.

Mr. Cowan believes the Prime Minister is not serious about reform, anyway. Despite the Conservative majority in both houses of Parliament, Mr. Harper has never pushed to force through his bills on Senate appointments and term limits.

Mr. Cowan says Mr. Mulcair's Senate abolition tour is a diversionary tactic. Abolition cannot be achieved, says Mr. Cowan, without an amendment to the Constitution.

"I don't think abolition is either realistic or desirable," he says. "Is the Senate really a problem? I don't think it is."

Jane Taber is The Globe's Atlantic bureau chief.

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