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Politicians trade blazers for blue jeans in rural Ontario at plowing match

Kathleen Wynne, who fielded questions from farmers angry about disappearing farmland and high energy bills, mounts a tractor at the International Plowing Match in Ontario on Tuesday.

Nathan Denette/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Kathleen Wynne is working the crowd at the International Plowing Match when rural anger and urban power abruptly collide.

"We're gonna have no farmland left from them windmills! And my hydro bill is way up," a man standing amid the makeshift bleachers in a farmer's field an hour north of Toronto tells her. "You need to go to Southwest Ontario and see."

"I have been there!" Ms. Wynne protests. "I've been all over."

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Liberal MPP Arthur Potts, recently elected to represent a downtown Toronto riding, jumps in. He tries to argue that the man's higher electricity bill has nothing to do with the turbines. No dice.

"You're a liar," the man shouts.

"Am not."

There is always bound to be a little awkwardness at the IPM – a rite of fall for Ontario politicians – as the province's leaders ditch business dress for blue jeans and clumsily mount tractors to proclaim their love for the countryside. But it is even more acute for the Liberals now, in light of the unpopular Green Energy Act, essentially a subsidy for wind and solar installations, and an election in which the Liberals scored a majority mostly by appealing to city and suburban voters.

The Premier contends this only makes it more vital her caucus be here.

"It's very important the MPPs are all out among the crowd, talking to folks … because many of them don't have rural sections in their ridings," she says.

For the most part, such practical concerns take a back seat as glad-handing legislators try to find a little pastoral romanticism to burnish their political brands.

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Ms. Wynne and her opposition counterparts – Progressive Conservative Jim Wilson and New Democrat Andrea Horwath – take turns plowing furrows.

Gaggles of MPPs, Mr. Potts among them, pose for selfies with farm equipment.

"It's pretty awesome they can get out of their suits for a day and celebrate rural living," says farmer Barry DeGeer, 42, on whose land the event is held and who tutored Ms. Wynne on the finer points of tilling the soil. "She did well."

Mr. Wilson, also the local MPP, reminisces about youthful summers pulling hay wagons on his uncle's farm in Collingwood.

"I was the free help – there was no family minimum wage back then," he jokes.

Even Ms. Horwath – who represents one of the province's most urban ridings in Hamilton – finds a rural connection to highlight, recalling childhood friends who grew up on farms just outside the city.

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Asked if it was a bit strange for politicians to "squeeze into their cowboy boots" every year for the event, she laughs.

"I bought these boots on Queen Street West, I'll have you know."

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