SASKATOON - The race to the Nov. 7 Saskatchewan election began Monday when Premier Brad Wall asked the lieutenant-governor to dissolve the legislature and send voters to the polls.
In making the announcement on Thanksgiving Day, Wall said his Saskatchewan Party was thankful for its first term and is looking for a second.
"We're going to work just very, very hard to try to earn the support of Saskatchewan people to get the great honour, the opportunity to do it again," Wall told supporters packed into a campaign office in Saskatoon.
The move officially kicks off an election that everyone knew was coming because Saskatchewan has fixed election dates — the only question was when the writ would be dropped to start the campaign.
Parties have been making campaign-style announcements for several weeks.
The Saskatchewan Party has been issuing news releases touting its investment in highways and health care, as well as income tax cuts. The government recently announced plans to replace a century-old psychiatric hospital in North Battleford and to build a new regional hospital in Moose Jaw.
"There's a lot more work to do ... we know that. We're anxious to get about that work," said Wall.
"But think about this — for the first time in a long time a government in Saskatchewan is not going to run away from their record. We will run proudly on our record because we have done what we said we would do."
Wall said the party will lay out a plan during the campaign to make life more affordable for students, seniors and families.
New Democrats have pitched a plan they say will ensure families benefit from resource wealth over the long-term. Leader Dwain Lingenfelter says an NDP government will create a Bright Futures Fund which would dedicate a portion of Saskatchewan's non-renewable resource royalties for future investment.
The NDP has also talked about affordable housing and rent control.
Lingenfelter kicked off the campaign Friday at Tommy Douglas House, the NDP headquarters in Regina, by invoking the memory of the former premier and socialist trailblazer to rally candidates and supporters.
"The statistics were that (Tommy Douglas) shouldn't have won in 1944 because he had some very powerful people who were working against him to try to keep him out of power," said Lingenfelter.
"Tommy stuck to his message of principle, on positive notes of what he would do for farmers ... and he surprised everyone because he was on the issues that mattered to people and wasn't responding to people who may have been taking shots at him."
"I'm just saying to my workers that this campaign is far from over."
Some political watchers, however, say the outcome of the election is looking like a foregone conclusion.
For starters, Saskatchewan voters don't have a habit of kicking out governments after one term. It has only happened once and that was in 1934 when voters gave the boot to a Conservative-led coalition government.
Ken Rasmussen, associate director of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina, also noted that the Saskatchewan Party has led the province through a resource boom and its leader, Wall is very popular.
"He's a singularly popular figure among premiers in Canada at this point. He seems to have the right tone. He does the right things. He doesn't seem to put a foot wrong," said Rasmussen.
The Saskatchewan Party was formed when former provincial Progressive Conservative and Liberal members of the legislature joined together in 1997. It surged to its first victory in the 2007 provincial election under Wall's leadership.
The Saskatchewan Party captured 38 of the 58 seats, reducing the previous NDP government to 20 seats and Opposition status.
The NDP sought to rebuild. Former premier Lorne Calvert stepped down and Lingenfelter, a deputy premier from the Roy Romanow era, took over the top job in June 2009.
Rasmussen said this election will be another fight for the NDP. This may be the first time in Saskatchewan's history where a governing party picks up more seats in its second go around, he said.
The outcome for New Democrats will hinge on urban constituencies in Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Moose Jaw.
Those were traditional NDP seats, but a handful swung to the Saskatchewan Party in the 2007 election and political watchers think the NDP could lose more this time around.
One seat to watch will be Regina Dewdney where veteran Saskatchewan Roughriders lineman Gene Makowsky hopes to tackle New Democrat Kevin Yates, who has held the seat since 1999. But Wall has noted that the vote was close in '07 — Yates won by just under 500 votes.
Rasmussen said one thing both parties are also concerned about is voter ambivalence because of the expected outcome.
"The NDP has as much admitted that they're not going to win, but they're trying to maintain their current seats and they're going to focus a lot on these individual constituency battles. And the Sask. Party doesn't want its supporters to think that 'well this is a done deal so we don't have to go out and vote,' " said Rasmussen.
"So both parties are really going to be campaigning full out."