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Kathleen Wynne, Minister Of Municipal Affairs And Housing, is scrummed outside a cabinet meeting at Queens Park on Oct. 16, 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Kathleen Wynne says she would serve as agriculture minister for one year if she wins the Liberal leadership in January and becomes Ontario's next premier.

Ms. Wynne made the comment in Ingersoll, during the first of five all-candidates debates for the seven men and women running to replace Dalton McGuinty.

The candidates faced vague questions selected and posed by Liberal insiders and focusing mainly on rural issues and health care, with few differences emerging.

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Ms. Wynne's pledge to appoint herself as minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs was the biggest surprise of a very tame event.

Several candidates, including Gerard Kennedy and Sandra Pupatello, said the government seemed out of touch to rural Ontarians, especially on energy issues, and had to work hard to rebuild their trust.

There was polite applause from the 150 people attending the meeting, but an equal number of protesters gathered outside to complain about wind farms, a local landfill project and the legislation that freezes teachers' wages.

With signs declaring "Rage Against Green Energy" and "Stop Wind Power," dozens of local residents chanted out front of the debate hall, while teachers and members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees protested out back.

Today marks the first chance for most people to hear what the would-be premiers have to say, and for the candidates to highlight the differences from their competitors, all of whom served in Mr. McGuinty's cabinet at one time or another.

Ms. Wynne, one of the perceived front-runners, has said party members don't want to see the candidates "ripping each other apart."

The leadership hopefuls are trying to win over potential delegates who will be the ones that actually vote for the new Liberal leader at a convention in Toronto Jan. 25-26.

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Delegates will be selected at meetings across the province the weekend of Jan. 11-12, just two weeks before the convention.

Mr. McGuinty surprised everyone on Oct. 15 with his decision to resign and prorogue the legislature, a move that killed planned committee hearings into the costly cancellation of two gas plants, as well as a rare contempt motion against his embattled Energy Minister Chris Bentley.

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