Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe responds to media questions at a news conference in Rivière-du-Loup, Que., on Friday. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe acknowledged Friday that his party is in a heated contest with the Conservatives to win the province's seats in the federal election campaign.

Duceppe made the admission while campaigning in the eastern Quebec city of Rimouski amid opinion polls suggesting the two parties are locked in a virtual tie in terms of popular support.

Duceppe's party faces a familiar opponent in Rimouski, where Louise Thibault, the former Bloc-turned-Independent incumbent MP, is running against the Bloc because she says Duceppe is not firm enough on the issue of Quebec sovereignty.

Speaking in Montmagny later in the day, Duceppe didn't appear worried about his candidate, Claude Guimond, losing to the former Bloc MP.

"It has happened in the past that somebody who had been with the Bloc ran with another party or ran as an independent. Every time, we won," Duceppe said.

PQ's Marois to make campaign appearances 

While Duceppe has faced criticism from a number of former members of his own party who say the Bloc has lost its way, at least one trusted ally remains — Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois.

Marois was supposed to deliver a speech at the Bloc's campaign launch, but she was forced to cancel at the last minute with what officials initially reported as a case of food poisoning.

However, doctors ultimately determined Marois had appendicitis. She was hospitalized for several days and underwent emergency surgery.

Duceppe said Friday that beginning next week, Marois will start making appearances at Bloc rallies.

Harper touts Montreal team

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are confident they can build on their strength in Quebec, and one party strategist mused this week about 48 of the province's 75 ridings being winnable.

The Bloc held 48 seats at the dissolution of Parliament, compared to 11 each for the Conservatives and Liberals. The NDP had one, and there were also two Independent members and two vacant seats.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper unveiled his team of Conservative candidates for the Montreal region at a rally in the Vaudreuil-Soulanges riding.

The riding is where Michael Fortier, who was controversially appointed to cabinet without being elected to office, hopes to unseat Bloc incumbent Meili Faille.

Faille defeated the Liberals' star candidate, former astronaut Marc Garneau, during the last election.

Flanked by his Conservative candidates for Montreal ridings, Harper touted his government's accomplishments in the city — ensuring the extension of Highway 30 along Montreal's South Shore and helping rehabilitate 465,000 square metres of federal land along the Montreal waterfront.

"These men and women are part of a new generation of Conservatives in Quebec, and with your help, they will form part of a new Conservative government," Harper said.

With files from the Canadian Press