JOLIETTE, Que. - Members of the Parti Quebecois say they've put their internal squabbling behind them and are united in support of their leader.

It's been a rocky few months for the provincial opposition party, marked by more than a half-dozen defections, weak poll numbers, and concerns about the leadership of Pauline Marois.

But at a caucus retreat, PQ members declared Wednesday that the troubles were over. Some jokingly referred to Marois as the "concrete lady" — the leader who wouldn't break.

One Pequiste said the atmosphere has calmed down, now that it's clear that former Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe isn't angling for Marois' job.

There had been whispers of a possible putsch, which Duceppe had done little to dispel, until several days ago.

The ex-Bloc leader finally put those rumours to rest over the weekend. Duceppe said he's not returning to politics and is instead focusing on clearing his name, following accusations that he used parliamentary funds in Ottawa to fund Bloc partisan activities.

Parti Quebecois member Yves-Francois Blanchet said the "storm" had passed, after Duceppe backed away.

"We had this hypothetical element hanging over us — related to Duceppe's desire to be leader or not — and that doesn't exist anymore," the legislature member said.

"That eases things significantly, let's be honest."

One longtime legistor lauded Marois' leadership, which had been called into question in recent days by fans of Duceppe and by former premier Bernard Landry.

"There's a feeling of unity like I haven't felt in a long time," Agnes Maltais said.

"We can't deny it, there were resignations and all that, but today we're feeling like Madame Marois has survived the challenges."

Landry, who questioned Marois' strategy for achieving independence, isn't the only ex-PQ premier on the outs with the current party brass.

Jacques Parizeau, a hero of the PQ grassroots, has demonstrated his support for his wife, Lisette Lapointe, who was among the prominent MNAs to leave the party and sit as an Independent.

Lucien Bouchard, who isn't as beloved by party members but is popular with the general public, now keeps his distance from his old party.

Some former members are upset with the party for doing too little to achieve independence. On the opposite end of the spectrum, others say it's time to give the issue a rest.

Earlier this year, the PQ also saw the defections of Pierre Curzi, a popular actor-turned-politician and Louise Beaudoin, one of the party's most visible members for much of its history. They remain committed sovereigntists and are now sitting as Independents.

The party has lost a handful of other members, most of whom have jumped to the poll-topping new Coalition For Quebec's Future. The upstart party's soaring poll numbers appear to have stabilized lately.

Another departing member, Jean-Martin Aussant, started a new pro-independence splinter party.

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