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Ignatieff steps down after historic defeat

Michael Ignatieff, the professorial leader of a decimated Liberal party, is ending his tenure in politics after steering the party to a devastating electoral defeat.

Voters slashed the ranks of Liberals in the House of Commons to an all-time low as Stephen Harper’s Conservatives vaulted to majority status.

“I will not be remaining as leader of this party,” Ignatieff told red-eyed supporters during an emotional news conference in Toronto.

“I will work out with the party officials the best timing for a departure so we can arrange for a succession in due time.”

The party that governed the country for much of the past century was reduced to just 34 seats, a distant third behind Jack Layton’s bounding New Democrats.

So complete was the Liberal loss that Ignatieff lost his own seat in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore, a rarity for a federal leader.

In Ignatieff’s case, it had a lot to do with a relentless Tory campaign of attack ads that began long before the election did, portraying the Liberal leader as a disloyal opportunist and part-time Canadian.

“Of course they attacked me, of course they vilified me, of course they engaged in an absolutely unscrupulous campaign of personal attack,” he said.

People who met him in person were often surprised, he said, “because I didn’t turn out to be quite as bad as the ads portrayed me.”

“The only thing Canadians like less than a loser is a sore loser, and I go out of politics with my head held high.”

Canadians deserve better from their politics and their politicians, he added, “and I leave politics with a strong desire that Canadians are better served in future.”

Ignatieff turned up his nose at the suggestion of a merger between the Liberals and the NDP, and said he remains confident the party will recover from Monday’s loss.

“I think the surest guarantee of the future of the Liberal party of Canada is four years of Conservative government and four years of NDP official Opposition.”

He said he intends to return to teaching “young Canadians,” one of his first passions. “No offers yet; no reasonable offers refused.”

For the last two weeks, the Liberals had pinned their electoral hopes on reinvigorating their traditional base of voters.

It was believed that an estimated 800,000 Liberals didn’t vote in 2008 and Ignatieff was counting on getting them back.

Ignatieff had gone cross-country last summer to bond with them, and the final days of his campaign were focused on a get-out-the-vote run in a much slicker and co-ordinated fashion than 2008.

He said up until Saturday morning, he thought he had them.

“It’s what I believed, it’s what I thought, it’s what I saw in our numbers,” he said. “There is a base that remains, but it is a much smaller base than I anticipated.”

He said he will consult with party officials about the timing of his departure and has asked deputy leader Ralph Goodale to convene the caucus next week to chose an interim leader.

Ignatieff was far from the only high-profile political figure who woke up today with tire tracks on their backs.

The separatist Bloc Quebecois — winner of at least half Quebec’s 75 seats in every election since 1993 — was reduced to a tiny, four-member regional rump. Leader Gilles Duceppe lost his own seat and immediately resigned.

A number of prominent Liberals also lost their seats, including hockey hall of famer Ken Dryden, former B.C. premier Ujjal Dosanjh, one-time leadership contender Gerard Kennedy, former immigration minister Joe Volpe and ex-cabinet hopeful Ruby Dhalla.

The Conservatives took 40 per cent of the vote, compared to 31 per cent for the NDP and a dismal 19 per cent for the Liberals.

The Tories return to Parliament Hill with 166 seats, a 24-seat improvement and more than enough to drive the national agenda until October 2015, when the country next goes to the polls under Harper’s fixed election date law.

The NDP almost tripled its seat count, rising to 103 MPs — including three dozen mostly unknowns from Quebec, a province where the party won its very first MP just over two years ago.

Under Liberal party rules, a leadership convention must be held within six months of the leader’s departure. A leader could be chosen by fall, Ignatieff suggested.

He said he’s hopeful that some younger successor — “I hope it’s a young woman” — will be able to restore the party’s lustre.

“I hope there will be people coming after me who look at me today and say, ‘He didn’t make it, but I will.'”

To see Ignatieff’s full resignation speech, click here.