EDMONTON - The Alberta Liberals are not what they used to be.
The party suffered a serious blow in Monday's provincial election, losing four of the eight seats it held when the vote was called and the title as official Opposition.
Leader Raj Sherman had to wait until the end of the night to learn that he had eked out a win in his constituency of Edmonton-Meadowlark.
He told reporters he knew it would be close, but he wasn't nervous.
"I'm an emerg. doc. We don't cringe."
He said he was proud of his party, considering that some pundits had forecast a Liberal shutout.
"We have survived," he said. "This was a practice election. We'll be there, fully battle-ready, for the next election."
He suggested, however, that Albertans give Premier Alison Redford a chance in the meantime.
Liberal Laurie Blakeman, who recaptured her seat in Edmonton-Centre, blamed strategic voting for the party's losses.
"People did panic and they did shift their vote to try to hold off the Wildrose," she said.
She added that the Tories should be grateful.
"I hope they understand how many of their votes came from the left."
Sherman announced during the night, while his seat was still undecided, that he would not resign as leader if he lost.
Sherman, driving around the province in a red pickup dubbed the "Sherman Tank," was the colourful wild card during the campaign.
His eight-member party ran behind from the start. They also had fewer candidates than the other main parties, but managed to field a full slate by having caucus officials run in some ridings.
While promising a pan-Alberta government, Sherman's team ran on a left-centre platform aimed at battling the NDP for seats in friendly Edmonton.
Like the New Democrats, the Liberals ran on lowering tuition, preserving public health care and increasing taxes on the rich and on big corporations.
Sherman, an emergency room doctor and one-term MLA, became party leader last fall after being tossed out of the Tory caucus for publicly criticizing health policy.
He delivered some of the memorable one-liners of the campaign. When Premier Alison Redford announced the Tories were promising a new fast track for emergency treatment, he mocked that the government had finally discovered triage.
He criticized Wildrose candidates for making anti-gay and racist comments, saying: "This is Alberta, not Alabama."
Party money was tight, so Sherman held new conferences in public plazas and parks. He caused a stir when he honed in on free publicity by crashing a scheduled Redford event.
As the campaign wound down, the message turned desperate as polls suggested Liberal supporters were moving to the Tories to block a possible Wildrose government.
Sherman declared war on both parties, urging voters to reject Tory "bullies" and Wildrose bigots."
The tirade was vintage Sherman, who has become known as a charmingly roguish quixotic figure tilting at windmills.
Born in India, the 45-year-old Sherman grew up in Squamish, B.C.
He excelled in sports but decided to practise medicine. He graduated from the University of Alberta and worked as an emergency room doctor until the Tories, impressed with his ideas, got him to run as a candidate in Edmonton-Meadowlark in the 2008 campaign.
After the election win, Sherman was named deputy health minister, but eventually found he couldn't keep silent as failed policies increased wait times and patient misery.
When he criticized then-premier Ed Stelmach and his caucus mates for failing to keep promises, he was tossed out of caucus late in 2010
Months later he crossed the floor to the Liberals, and eventually became their leader, saying he had at last found his true home.