Students offered an apple on Day 1 of Saskatchewan election campaign

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SASKATOON - Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall offered an apple to students as he hit the hustings Tuesday in an election race that many pundits believe is his for the picking.

Wall announced a scholarship that would see every new high school graduate get up to $2,000 towards post-secondary tuition if his party is returned to power in the Nov. 7 election. He also promised to help parents by matching 10 per cent of contributions to a child's Registered Education Savings Plan to a maximum of $250 each year.

Wall pitched the plan as something to help families over and above funding universities.

"It's important to fund institutions, and we will, but I think it's also very important to help families directly," Wall said as he stood in the backyard of a Saskatoon home.

The scholarship, which would begin for 2012 high school graduates, could be used to reduce tuition fees at any post-secondary institution or recognized training course in Saskatchewan. Students could use the scholarship to cut costs by $500 in any single year.

The Saskatchewan Party said the scholarship will cost $4.6 million in the first year and the education savings plan will cost $11 million a year.

But the Opposition New Democrats, Wall's main opponents in the vote, suggest students are having a tougher time because the Saskatchewan Party, which rode to power in 2007, ended a tuition freeze introduced by the previous NDP government. The NDP said the proposed scholarship falls short of covering the $586 average increase in annual tuition.

The NDP started the first full day of the campaign by unveiling details of a fund for the future that would be fuelled with resource cash. And the plan starts with a review of the revenue the province takes from potash, a fertilizer ingredient that Saskatchewan produces in abundance.

NDP Leader Dwain Lingenfelter said preliminary plans have been made for an independent expert review that would begin in December.

"Making sure we get our fair share of our own resources to pay for the services people need like quality health care and strong education is the right thing to do," Lingenfelter said in a news release.

The NDP said it would invest a minimum of $100 million annually into the Bright Futures fund over the next four years. It said the fund is expected to grow to nearly $10 billion by 2052.

The Saskatchewan Party claims that promise, along with others already made by the NDP, will cost more than $1 billion annually. Wall said the fund is a good idea, but his government would pay down debt first and then make education and infrastructure investments.

"I guess if there's a money tree everything can happen at the same time," said Wall. "But our challenge is to make sure that whatever we talk about in this campaign is affordable in the mid-term and in the long-term."

The promises Tuesday came on the first full day of the campaign, which started early Monday evening.

Political watchers have said the outcome of the election looks like a foregone conclusion in the early going.

Saskatchewan voters don't have a habit of kicking out governments after one term and polls have suggested Wall is popular. At least one pundit has suggested it may be the first time in provincial history that a governing party picks up more seats in its second go-round.

The Saskatchewan Party, which was formed when former provincial Progressive Conservative and Liberal members of the legislature joined together in 1997, held 38 of the 58 seats in the legislature before the campaign. The NDP had the other 20.

Despite popular opinion, Wall has said his party won't sit back.

"We'll take nothing for granted," he told supporters packed into a campaign office Monday evening. "We'll work hard to earn every single vote that's available."

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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