Ex-Harvard Professor Ignatieff Quitting Canadian Politics

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff
Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff speaks at a townhall discussion during a campaign stop in London, Ontario, on March 31, 2011. Photographer: Goeff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff said he will resign after the party suffered its worst-ever election defeat, including the loss of his own constituency, to Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in yesterday’s election.

Liberal lawmakers will meet in Ottawa next week to choose an interim leader for when Parliament re-opens and may decide on a permanent replacement in the next few months, said Ignatieff, a former professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“I will not be remaining as leader of this party and I will work out with the party officials the best timing for a departure so that we can arrange a succession,” Ignatieff, 63, told reporters in Toronto today.

The Liberals were reduced to 34 seats in the 308-seat House of Commons, down from the 77 they won in the last election in 2008, according to preliminary Elections Canada figures. The Conservatives won their first majority government with Harper as leader by winning 167 seats, while the New Democrats, led by Jack Layton, surged past the Liberals to become the largest opposition party, with a record 102 seats.

Ignatieff, was attacked in Conservative pre-election television commercials for “Just Visiting” Canada and saying he would return to Harvard if he didn’t become prime minister.

‘Unscrupulous’ Attacks

“Of course they engaged in an absolutely unscrupulous campaign of personal attacks,” Ignatieff said. “The only things Canadians like less than a loser is a sore loser and I go out of politics with my head held high.”

“What I would like to do is go back and teach young Canadians,” he said. “If there are some offers that come forward I will accept them gratefully.”

The Liberal Party, which governed Canada for 64 of the past 100 years, needs to rebuild its support and its ability to wage an election campaign, Ignatieff said. There is a good opportunity for that over the next four years as voters will see a Conservative government and NDP opposition, he said.

“I’m proud of the ways our party unlocked the desire for change in Canada,” he said. “The chief beneficiary of that was another party and I think that pushed up the Conservative vote as a reaction.”