Parti Québécois leadership candidate Martine Ouellet says she would hold a sovereignty referendum in her first term as premier.

The former PQ cabinet minister entered the race to succeed Pierre Karl Péladeau as permanent leader Friday and is the only one of the four declared candidates to announce plans for a first-term referendum.

"The time for waiting is over," Ouellet told supporters in Montreal.

"We've been waiting for 20 years, and at this pace if we don't give a serious push to the independence movement we will wait a long time as spectators of our future."

Asked by a reporter if voting for her for the leadership position meant a vote for an independent Quebec, she answered "clearly."

She said sovereignty is necessary to end what she called the provincial Liberals' "pillage" of the province and to change the balance of power with Ottawa.

"Imagine everything we could do if we held all the cards," said Ouellet. "Imagine: Quebec, the first French country in North America."

She said the province's will is being "crushed" by federal decision-makers on important matters such as the Energy East pipeline.

"Quebec says no, but Canada wants to impose it on us," she said, saying the pipeline would pose a huge risk to the province's drinking water supply.

"No, Quebec is not for sale," Ouellet said. "Independence means making decisions for Quebecers, by Quebecers."

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PQ MNA Martine Ouellet speaks during a news conference in Montreal May 9, 2016, where she outlined a climate plan for the province of Quebec. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Ouellet, 47, finished third in the last leadership race in 2015 behind Péladeau and Alexandre CloutierPéladeau resigned earlier this month, citing family reasons.

A few weeks ago, Ouellet tabled a new economic development plan which she says would lead to the creation of 350,000 jobs in the province by 2030.

The only other candidate to have stated concrete sovereignty plans is Jean-Francois Lisée, who said he would introduce a referendum during his second term as premier.

The PQ is scheduled to choose its new permanent leader between mid-September and mid-October, while the next Quebec election is set for the fall of 2018.

Sylvain Gaudreault is serving as interim leader.

Ouellet joins Cloutier, Lisée and Véronique Hivon in the race to succeed Péladeau at the party's helm.