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'orange wave'

Liberal supporters watch election results roll in at party headquarters in Toronto on May 2, 2011.ADRIEN VECZAN

The centre-left has to "get its act together," said one of the veteran Liberals toppled in the election.

Brian Murphy, a former mayor of Moncton and two-term New Brunswick MP, lost in a three-way race that embodied widespread predictions of a split in the centre-left vote. His riding has been safely Liberal for nearly a quarter-century, but strengthening NDP support allowed a Conservative candidate to scoop the seat with less than 36 per cent of the vote.

"What we didn't predict was the orange wave that hit Moncton," Mr. Murphy said Tuesday morning. "It's clear that the centre-left has to get its act together."

He plans to put renewed focus on his law practice and spend time with family. He was sanguine about his own loss, saying that close victories and defeats don't feel all that different, but he urged his party to take immediate action to find its way out of the political wilderness.

"A Liberal should get up there and think of the future," he said when asked about a possible merger or alliance with the NDP. "That has to be defeating the Conservatives. That has to be the whole goal."

Mike Savage, another Atlantic Liberal MP ousted in this election, said that local races were weighed down by a manufactured negative image of party leader Michael Ignatieff, who announced Tuesday he would step down.

"There isn't a Canadian alive, I think, who can withstand tens of millions of dollars of negative advertising and character assassination," said Mr. Savage, who lost a tight race to the NDP in a Halifax-area riding.

He believes the Liberals will need to ramp up their fundraising to level the advertising playing field but argued it is too soon to write the party's obituary. "I don't know that you change everything based on a few weeks of a campaign that stunk," he said.

In Labrador - one of the safest Liberal seats in the country, which the Grits have held for 58 of the last 62 years - incumbent Todd Russell was another prominent casualty.

Calling himself "deeply disappointed," he said that Liberal resolve had been hurt by the steady drumbeat of bad national polling data. But he'd expected his own support to hold firm and was surprised to bleed enough votes to the NDP to allow a Tory victory.

"[A merger is]a philosophical-ideological question and it's also a question of practical reality," he said. "It's something that's going to need some thought."

Of course, any such talks now would begin with the New Democrats in the driver's seat. In this race, the NDP more than doubled their number of seats and vaulted to Official Opposition status. They pulled half-again as many votes as the Liberals, once seen as the natural governing party of Canada.

The reversal of the parties' fortunes was particularly evident in the Newfoundland riding of St. John's South-Mount Pearl. Siobhan Coady won the historically Conservative seat in 2008 for the Liberals amid an anti-Tory mood, but was unable to consolidate victory in this race. She was thrashed by New Democrat Ryan Cleary, who finished 19 percentage points in the lead.

Ms. Coady told the local radio station VOCM that she had started to feel the NDP surge two weeks ago and was overtaken by a desire for change. She did not rule out a return to public life.