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Bloc Quebecois members want new leader to adopt a more open, unifying approach

OTTAWA - New Bloc Quebecois Leader Mario Beaulieu was assuring people on Monday that his party is "more united than ever" amid resignations and anger over his victory speech which included a chant formerly used by the terrorist Front de liberation du Quebec.

Beaulieu, who was the head of the strongly nationalist Societe St-Jean-Baptiste chapter in Montreal before entering federal politics, narrowly won the Bloc leadership on Saturday.

He claimed 53 per cent of the votes over his competitor, Bloc MP Andre Bellavance.

Only minutes into his new job, Beaulieu angered former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe when he suggested that previous Bloc bosses had suffered from an attitude of "defeatism."

On Monday, Bloc MPs — none of whom supported Beaulieu — called for calm.

MPs Louis Plamondon and Jean-Francois Fortin invited their leader to make a more "unifying" speech than he did on Saturday.

"I think we need to let the dust settle," Fortin said in a telephone interview. "There has to be a gesture of openness from Mario Beaulieu."

Plamondon acknowledged that leadership contests always leave bruises.

"They were a little more striking because of the speech," he said, adding he wants to see Beaulieu reach out to the 47 per cent who didn't vote for him.

Beaulieu is to meet with the four-member Bloc caucus in Parliament this week.

Among the things they will discuss his idea that all Bloc MPs donate a portion of their salaries to promoting sovereignty, a notion that has been coolly received by the current caucus.

Plamondon and Fortin said they already contribute from their personal resources to the cause.

On Saturday, Beaulieu raised Duceppe's ire when he suggested that previous Bloc leaders had done little to promote Quebec sovereignty.

Duceppe told reporters he "didn't appreciate" a reference in Beaulieu's speech to an "attitude of defeatism" within the Bloc over the past 20 years, something he denied was the case. He said the suggestion was an insult to him, and former leaders Lucien Bouchard, Michel Gauthier and Daniel Paille.

Duceppe said he also didn't like hearing Beaulieu and others chanting "Nous vaincrons," which translates as "we shall overcome" and is closely associated with the FLQ.

The terrorist group pushed its sovereigntist agenda through a series of bombings and the 1970 kidnappings of British trade commissioner James Cross and then Quebec labour minister Pierre Laporte.

Cross was later freed but Laporte was killed.

"I don't want to be identified with that," Duceppe said Saturday of the slogan. "That was the FLQ. I mean, come on. Be serious."

As well, the president of a Montreal-area Bloc riding association immediately announced his resignation after Beaulieu's win. MP Claude Patry also said he was going to quit and then reconsidered.

Beaulieu said he will aggressively promote sovereignty although there are doubts about Quebec's appetite for the option.

The Bloc was reduced to just four seats in the Commons in the 2011 election from the 49 it held after the 2008 vote. Earlier this year, the Parti Quebecois also suffered a drubbing, coming in second to the Quebec Liberals in the April 7 election and recording their lowest level of support in 44 years.

— With files from Lina Dib

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