REGINA - There are half a dozen registered political parties in Saskatchewan, but the Nov. 7 election is really just a two-horse race.
The writ kicking off the campaign was dropped Monday. The governing Saskatchewan Party will be looking for a second term over the Opposition New Democrats who, some observers say, will have to fight just to maintain what they have.
The Saskatchewan Party currently holds 38 of the 58 seats in the legislature, most of them in rural Saskatchewan. The NDP holds the rest.
"There really are no other parties," says Ken Rasmussen, associate director of the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina. "I mean the Liberals have collapsed entirely in the province and the Green Party is floundering as well ... I think it's safe to say after this election we'll be a two-party system."
It hasn't always been that way.
The Liberals won the first Saskatchewan election in 1905 and held power until 1944, when the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the predecessor to the NDP, swept into office.
Political power flipped between the two until 1978, when the NDP won, the Liberals were shut out and the Progressive Conservatives emerged as the official Opposition.
In 1982, the Progressive Conservatives under Grant Devine took 55 of 64 seats in the legislature, reducing the NDP to just nine members.
Two terms later, the NDP clawed its way back into the premier's office in 1991 under Roy Romanow.
The Tories were decimated in the following years as details emerged about how legislators and caucus workers were illegally diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars from government allowances while in power. Fourteen members of the legislature and caucus workers were convicted.
The Saskatchewan Party formed in 1997 when four Progressive Conservative members and four Liberal members teamed up to challenge the NDP.
The Progressive Conservative brand was put into hibernation, while the Liberals continued, though they were not really a force. No one has been elected under the provincial Progressive Conservative banner since 1995 or the Liberal name since 1999.
"The Liberal party never went away, but it went through a series of awkward leadership transformations and internal battles," says Rasmussen.
"They failed miserably to become the natural opposition when the Progressive Conservative Party collapsed. They couldn't get their own act together and due to their own incompetence and lack of leadership, they allowed the Saskatchewan Party to rise and become the alternative to the NDP.
"And now, of course, the Saskatchewan Party has really become a formidable force and the Liberal party has really disintegrated into irrelevance."
In recent years the Progressive Conservatives have attempted to revive themselves under leader Rick Swenson, a member of the Saskatchewan Tory government of the 1980s.
Rasmussen says the PCs are "a sideshow."
"They really don't count," he says.
"They exist because there's some money in a bank account, but besides that there's not much taste anywhere. I can't imagine that they will run many candidates and if they do, I can't imagine them getting any support."
The Liberals captured 42,585 votes in 2007 — about nine per cent. Leader Ryan Bater plans to run in the Battlefords constituency this time around.
The Progressive Conservatives got 812 votes in 2007 — 0.18 per cent. In fact, the Green Party did better than the Tories in 2007, receiving 9,128 votes, or two per cent.
But the Greens are facing their own troubles in the province. Leader Larissa Shasko resigned just two months before the provincial election and threw her support behind New Democrat candidate Yens Pedersen, who is running in Regina South. Victor Lau became the new Green Party leader on Sept. 25.
Rasmussen says without being disrespectful to the election process, the outcome of this election is probably a foregone conclusion.
"It would take a monumental event to shift the numbers significantly in favour of the NDP," he said. He noted that various polls have given the Saskatchewan Party a big lead and Saskatchewan voters haven't kicked out a government after one term in the post-war era.
"This may be the first time in Saskatchewan's history where a governing party picks up more seats in its second go-round than it got in the first one," says Rasmussen. "Usually that's not the case."
Rasmussen says he doesn't think the NDP will be hit as hard as they were in '82, when the Tories swept to power.
"I don't think they'll be wiped out. Now they may lose four or five seats in urban Saskatchewan and that's enough of a humiliation."