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Canada's Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff pauses while addressing supporters after being defeated, at the Canadian federal election night headquarters in Toronto, May 2, 2011. Canada's ruling Conservatives were heading for a crushing victory in Monday's federal election, as the left-wing vote split between two parties and the separatist Bloc Quebecois faded to almost nothing. REUTERS/Mike Cassese (CANADA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS POLITICS)MIKE CASSESE/Reuters

Michael Ignatieff is resigning as leader of the Liberal Party after presiding over the most devastating defeat in his party's history.

He made the announcement Tuesday morning in an emotional press conference - his team stood at the back of the room, some in tears - just hours after he watched the election returns, seeing his party go from 77 seats to 34 and losing official opposition party status to the NDP.

He noted that the "only thing Canadians like less than a loser is a sore loser" and he is "leaving politics with "my head held high."

Mr. Ignatieff also lost his own seat in Etobicoke-Lakeshore - one he had represented since 2006 - to a rookie Conservative.

Ralph Goodale the deputy leader, has been asked to convene the Liberal caucus next week to allow them to make a recommendation to the party on an interim leader.

He said he will be working out with party officials the "best timing for a departure so we can arrange a succession in due time." On Monday night he did not announce his resignation - although his party had suffered huge losses, especially in Toronto, his own riding race had not been completely decided.

His announcement will trigger yet another leadership convention - the Liberals have had three leadership conventions since 2003 when Paul Martin took over the helm from Jean Chretien.

"There must be somewhere out there, possibly in the room this morning, or possibly watching on television, who thinks - he didn't get there but I will," he said, in thinking about his successor.

He said he hopes it will be a young woman.

Although he has no offers, he says he would like to go back to teaching - teaching "young Canadians," he said.

In assessing where he went wrong, Mr. Ignatieff dismissed criticism that he should have waited to force the election.

"This is a Prime Minister found in contempt of Parliament. This was a Prime Minister where the accumulations of what we believed to be abuses of power led to a point at which it seemed to me absolutely my responsibility as the leader of the opposition to stand up for the sovereignty of Parliament," he said.

He also said the Conservative attack ads launched against him - well before the writ was dropped - "had an impact." And he called it an "absolutely unscrupulous campaign of personal attack."

"I had a very large square put around my neck for a number of years," he said, adding that Canadians "were always surprised to meet me in the flesh" after seeing those ads.

"I didn't turn out to be quite as bad as the ads portrayed me," he said. "I think Canadians deserve better from their politics. And I leave politics with a strong desire that Canadians are better served in the future."

He believes his party unlocked a desire for change - but the chief beneficiary of it was the NDP and that pushed the Conservative vote up "as a reaction."

"That's what I genuinely think happened," he said.

Meanwhile, he would not welcome a merger on the left - something that Bob Rae, who held on to his Toronto Centre riding, had not dismissed Monday night.

"I think the surest guarantee of a future for the Liberal Party of Canada is four years of Conservative right-wing government and four years of NDP left-wing opposition," he said. 'I think after that experience Canadians will, I hope, again discover why you have a Liberal Party in the centre."