MONTREAL - With her expected rival bowing out, Pauline Marois was able to breathe again Monday and return to focusing on her party's top issue: sovereignty.

On Sunday afternoon Gilles Duceppe ruled out any return to politics after facing allegations that the Bloc Quebecois used public money to pay the salaries of party officials during his time as leader.

Speaking to a group of supporters at the Universite de Montreal, Marois said she was moving past the PQ's internal squabbling and announced the creation of a committee to examine the future of sovereignty in Quebec.

"This committee will work on sovereignty, on the project of Quebec as a country," said Marois. "We will prepare a strategy for the next sovereigntist government and the vice-president of this committee will be the leader of the Bloc Quebecois."

Marois's words resonated with several students at the event who agreed with her assessment that the gap between Canada and Quebec is just too large.

"The solution to end this gap is to end this country, and so to create two separate countries: Quebec and Canada," said Universite de Montreal student Paul Morin.

Having lost the former Bloc leader as a rival, Marois was quick to capitalize on the federal party's new leader, Daniel Paille, elected only last December, naming him vice-president of the new committee.

When asked about the allegations of improper spending, Paille would only comment that the allegations took place before his time as leader and that he didn't believe Duceppe had broken the law.

"It's part of the management from Mr. Duceppe in front of the house and I think it was good management, that's it," he said.

Speaking across Montreal, Coalition Avenir Quebec leader Francois Legault took the time to speak about the PQ's troubles while unveiling his upstart party's first executive.

"It has become like bad theatre," said Legault. "A distraction from the real challenges that Quebec faces… I think that people in Quebec want to discuss the major challenges of education, healthcare and the economy."

Duceppe's political career is likely over for good, said McGill university political science professor Antonia Maioni.

"He knows from the inside how difficult it is to mesh the sovereignty movement. He knows how hard it's going to be in this particular circumstance, with a new party emerging in Quebec, to be able to really have an effective run."