03/09/2015 04:11 EDT | Updated 05/09/2015 05:59 EDT

NDP veterans call for unity after Manitoba premier barely wins leadership vote

WINNIPEG - Veteran members of the Manitoba NDP are calling on people to put aside their egos and reunite a party that has been plagued by in-fighting for months.

Premier Greg Selinger barely held on to his job after getting 51 per cent support from delegates in a weekend leadership vote that saw some of his rivals' supporters reduced to tears. But the premier has not yet extended an olive branch to those who challenged him.

Jim Rondeau, a former cabinet minister who backed challenger Steve Ashton in the leadership race, said a lot is resting on Selinger's shoulders.

"He has to have huge wisdom to figure out how to get together after a large family fight," Rondeau said. "He's going to have to figure out how to establish a process to put some of the animosity away."

Although Selinger led the party to its fourth straight majority in 2011, he has faced public anger since raising the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven in 2013 after promising not to.

Theresa Oswald and four other senior cabinet ministers resigned in October after calling publicly for Selinger to step down. He refused and went on to beat Oswald on Sunday by only 33 votes. Selinger declined to speak to The Canadian Press Monday.

Most of the five rebel cabinet ministers also declined to comment on their futures Monday. Former finance minister Jennifer Howard confirmed in an email she will run again in the next election.

"I have always said that," she wrote. "Still true today."

Rondeau said people will have to work together for the good of the party before the April 2016 election.

"People who have campaigned actively and pushed people now have to be on the train and the train has to move down that track," he said. "That's hard to do after you have basically said, 'I don't have faith in the (leader).'"

Ashton, who finished last on the first ballot Sunday, also called for party unity Monday. He declined to be interviewed, but said in a message that the party needs to "put the convention behind us."

"That includes not finger-pointing about who supported which candidate on the first or second ballot," he wrote. "There are no more Ashton, Selinger or Oswald camps. Only the NDP camp."

But many of the top people who made up the NDP election war room in 2011 worked on Oswald's campaign and are now dusting off their resumes.

"They've lost some real backroom political talent and, if you're a New Democrat, you hope they can bring some of those people back in under the tent rather than have them on the outside shooting into the tent," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Manitoba.

"They have to repair a lot of broken bonds of trust and confidence in one another."

Selinger has to reach out to his challengers and accept some responsibility for what went wrong, Thomas said.

Opposition Conservative Leader Brian Pallister said he's glad the "circus is packing up and leaving town," but said the NDP has shown it can't give voters the change they desire.

"The NDP went into that meeting deeply divided and they came out more divided at the end of the day," Pallister said Monday.

"This dysfunction has got to stop. If Manitobans want real change, they need to come to us."