01/28/2012 12:46 EST | Updated 03/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Marois attacks Harper, rallies PQ

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois took a swing at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canada during a pivotal speech to supporters at a weekend party convention in Montreal.

Marois opened the meeting of PQ riding officials with a campaign-style speech rife with attacks on Harper and claims of a growing gap between Quebec and the rest of the country.

"Canada's choices and Stephen Harper's choices are clear," Marois said, citing recent federal to moves to build more prisons and to dump the Kyoto Accord – decisions she said violate Quebec values.

Her Friday night speech resonated among delegates, including some who were openly questioning Marois's leadership just days ago.

"I think we're going to come out of this weekend more united than we have been for a long, long time," said MNA Bernard Drainville, who recently suggested the PQ under Marois could "disappear."

Marois struck the right chord with her speech, said Pierre Dubuc, a riding organizer among the rank–and–file who earlier this month pressured her to step aside and let Gilles Duceppe take over.

Duceppe's attempted putsch failed after media reports that alleged the former Bloc Québécois leader used public funds to finance partisan work.

Dubuc says Marois is getting the party back on the right track — although he still hopes Duceppe plays a role in the next provincial election.

"I hope that Mr. Duceppe at some point will be able to [return] because he is the most popular sovereigntist in Quebec," Dubuc said. "Everybody hopes that Mr. Duceppe is going to be back to help us win the next election."

Duceppe announced last Sunday he would not seek a return to public life, after the controversy arose over how he directed House of Commons funds as the Bloc leader.

PQ delegates say the party's main priority should be to rebuild public confidence in the wake of its leadership crisis.

"The leadership of Mme. Marois needs to be established clearly," said Nicolas Marceau, PQ finance critic.

"I think that's been done. I think she is firmly in command."