By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - The leader of Canada's left-leaning New Democrats (NDP), who is set to lose his job after a poor showing in last year's election, on Tuesday urged the party to remain united amid signs of a split that could benefit Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The NDP, which has never held power federally, started last year's campaign in the lead, but ended in third place after a series of missteps. Members voted on Sunday to replace leader Thomas Mulcair at a convention marked by open divisions over policy.
"This weekend's vote must not divide us. Instead, let's work together to choose the best person to take our project forward," Mulcair said in a statement on Twitter. The comments were his first since the convention ended.
The NDP compete with the ruling Liberals for much of the center-left segment of the electorate. Extended NDP infighting may boost the prospects of Trudeau's Liberals in the next federal election, scheduled for 2019.
"The most sure-fire way not to win an election is to make your party look divided ... unless they can rally around a common sense of purpose, they could realistically be in the political wilderness," said Nanos Research pollster Nik Nanos.
Mulcair will stay on until a new leader can be chosen, which could take as long as two years.
"They are in political trouble," said University of Manitoba political science professor Paul Thomas, noting there were few potential leadership candidates who could compete with Trudeau. The 44-year-old prime minister's popularity has remained high since the election.
The party is riven by strains between more centrist members, including some unions and politicians who hold power at the provincial level, as well as activists who produced a manifesto calling for strict energy industry curbs.
Party members voted to study the manifesto.
The convention was held in Alberta, the heart of Canada's struggling energy industry and a province that elected its first ever NDP government last year.
Alberta premier Rachel Notley on Monday said the manifesto's proposals to keep oil in the ground and slap a moratorium on new pipelines were naive, ill-informed and tone deaf.
But federal NDP legislator Peter Julian, tipped as a potential leadership candidate, noted the party had years to rebuild and laughed off suggestions it was doomed.
"I've never seen a year ... where people have not been saying that the NDP is on the verge of a crisis," he said.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren, editing by G Crosse)