04/09/2015 03:30 EDT | Updated 06/09/2015 05:59 EDT

Manitoba Premier says rebel members of NDP government regain caucus privileges

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger appeared to put five months of bitter internal turmoil behind him Thursday as he welcomed back seven NDP caucus members who had challenged his leadership.

"We've come to the conclusion that it's time for caucus to be unified, and that principle was established and agreed to by everybody today," Selinger said following a day-long caucus retreat at a monastery north of Winnipeg.

"It was a respectful, honest conversation that came to a conclusion that we wanted to be unified to serve our constituents, to serve the people of Manitoba. Everybody saw their higher calling and put that first today."

Thursday was the first time the entire caucus had gathered since last November, when Selinger stripped the rebel members of some of their privileges, including the right to attend caucus meetings.

The rebels included five senior cabinet ministers and one backbencher who suggested Selinger consider resigning in order to help the NDP rebound from record-low opinion poll numbers.

One of the rebels, longtime health minister Theresa Oswald, ran against Selinger for the party leadership last month and lost by a razor-thin 33-vote margin.

She left Thursday's caucus meeting two hours early because of a family medical appointment and said discussion of her status in caucus at that point was "ongoing".

Still, she felt very good about the meeting, she said.

"I think that people are able to share their feelings ... and also be very honest with one another about the fact that we've been on different sides of an issue over these last months and our journey to come back together is one that we have to work on together, collectively," she said.

"The (NDP) membership chose Premier Selinger to continue to be the leader. I am respecting their decision."

Neither Selinger nor Oswald would reveal details of what was said in the monastery.

NDP party president Ovide Mercredi would only say the gathering allowed everyone to talk frankly.

"The process allowed each person to speak as long as they wanted to, each in turn, without anyone interfering."

Selinger said the rebels will have all of their privileges reinstated immediately and will attend all caucus gatherings in the future.

The decision will also allow them to move back into the NDP caucus office months after they were relegated to a different area of the legislature.

The NDP has been trying to find a way to mend fences with a provincial election slated for next April.

The party's standing in opinion polls plummeted in 2013 after the government raised the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven.

The leadership squabble has given the Opposition Progressive Conservatives ammunition for the election campaign.

Oswald and the other rebels criticized Selinger when they went public with their concerns last fall, accusing him of not listening to people and playing favourites in caucus.

More immediately, Selinger has to prepare a budget set for April 30 and decide whether to reinstate some of the rebels in his cabinet.

Their resignations from the inner circle last fall meant Selinger had to fill portfolios such as health, justice, and finance with less-experienced replacements.

Selinger gave no indication Thursday that a cabinet shuffle was looming.

"Today was a big day for us, and we're just leaving it right at that for now."