10/28/2014 11:09 EDT | Updated 12/28/2014 05:59 EST

Greg Selinger, Manitoba Premier, Says He Won't Step Down

WINNIPEG - Greg Selinger vowed Tuesday to stay on as Manitoba premier despite open challenges from some of his senior cabinet ministers and a clear indication that his caucus is divided.

After lying low for almost two days while senior NDP ministers said Selinger should consider stepping down, the premier emerged to say he is staying in his job, running for re-election in 2016 and, possibly, removing some of the rebels from his cabinet.

"I've had a conversation with those folks today and I've said that we have to focus our energy on the priorities of Manitobans," said Selinger, who was surrounded by 15 of his 34 caucus colleagues.

"That's where we need to be putting our efforts as cabinet ministers, as caucus members, and the conversation has to focus on those priorities.

"I am committed to that vision and I am planning to move forward."

Selinger said "all options" are on the table, including a cabinet shuffle, but he would not be more specific.

The New Democrats have been sinking in opinion polls ever since they raised the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven in July 2013. The government also sidestepped a referendum that was required under law for any sales tax hike.

Health Minister Erin Selby said Tuesday that Selinger, 63, has had 18 months to persuade voters that the tax hike was the right decision, but he has failed to win them over.

"They are angry. They feel he broke their trust and he hasn't been able to mend that," Selby said. "I think he has a lot to think about, but I am sure he will make the right decision for Manitoba."

All NDP caucus members voted in the legislature to raise the tax, but as the anti-Selinger movement blew open this week, some tried to distance themselves.

Stan Struthers, the finance minister who raised the sales tax and who was later demoted to the municipal government portfolio, said the tax hike was Selinger's idea.

"The premier's been very clear that he's taken responsibility for it. You can imagine that there were a lot of different views around the table, a lot of discussion about the step that we took."

Justice Minister Andrew Swan said there is "growing evidence out there that there are concerns with the premier's leadership."

Finance Minister Jennifer Howard was more measured but encouraged Selinger to take into account the concerns that have been raised about his performance.

Selinger has garnered firm support in some quarters.

Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross, one of the cabinet ministers to stand with Selinger on Tuesday, said earlier this week she backs the premier "100 per cent" and added that raising the sales tax has paid off. Rosann Wowchuk, a former finance minister who now co-chairs the premier's election planning committee, also backed the premier.

The revolt leaves Selinger dealing with a divided caucus heading into a short fall legislature sitting that is to start in mid-November. The premier said he intends to work with his caucus.

"Everybody has to make a commitment to working together, even if they have differences, and that's something I've underlined ... with people that have been showing up in the newspapers the last couple of days.

"And that expectation is very clear on my part. There's no doubt about it."

The NDP has been in power since 1999, and captured 46 per cent of the popular vote in the 2011 election.

Recent opinion polls suggest that support is now in the low 30s and well behind the Opposition Progressive Conservatives.

Paul Thomas, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba, said the public spat is unprecedented in Manitoba and may cause "long-term damage" to the NDP.

"It is a mess. I don't think there's anything good about the situation for the government," Thomas said.

"It's going to take all Premier Selinger's management skills to get out of this alive."

The NDP rebels are unlikely to help the Opposition Tories take down the government, Thomas said, but the infighting will turn off many voters.

"The work of government will be impaired by this. You can't go into a cabinet room with five or six people ... being seen as rebels, not only internally, but in the public mind."


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