Gilles Duceppe has launched an appeal for unity among pro-sovereignty troops in Quebec, as his former party seeks a new leader.

The outspoken ex-leader of the Bloc Québécois told sovereignty supporters gathered in Drummondville on the weekend that bickering won't help Quebec's quest for independence.

'A colossal job awaits the next Bloc Québécois leader.' —Jean-François Fortin, Bloc MP and leadership candidate

Duceppe spoke at the Bloc's first general council meeting since the party was decimated in the May 2 federal election.

Only four Bloc MPs were re-elected, with Quebec voters rallying instead around a slate of inexperienced NDP candidates.

Duceppe had harsh words for the NDP's Quebec caucus, especially the lack of French fluency among some members.

The former Bloc leader also blasted Quebec's embattled Liberal government, adding his voice to a growing chorus demanding Premier Jean Charest's resignation over the construction corruption scandal.

"It's time to change this government!" Duceppe said.

Bloc leadership candidates line up

A newly-elected Bloc MP is the first to declare his intention to seek the party's leadership. Jean-François Fortin, 38, said he's ready for a leadership race.

The Gaspé MP was elected federally for the first time on May 2, and only sat in the House of Commons for a few days before summer break.

But the former mayor of Sainte-Flavie said he brings young blood to the party.

"The election results on May 2 have to act as a catalyzer to push the party to act in a sustainable way," he said.

"A colossal job awaits the next Bloc Québécois leader."

Long-serving Bloc MP Maria Mourani is another leadership contender, hinting that she is "98 per cent" sure she wants to become the first woman to head the party.

Bloc leadership candidates will be allowed to raise $150,000 each for the campaign. The Bloc currently counts about 53,000 card-carrying members.

With files from Radio-Canada, Canadian Press