MONTREAL - The Bloc Quebecois leadership race officially kicked off Saturday as the struggling party met Saturday in Drummondville.

Two MPs appeared keen to step up to replace former chief Gilles Duceppe.

They are: Maria Mourani, MP for Ahuntsic and Jean-François Fortin of Haute-Gaspésie-la Mitis-Matane-Matapédia.

Fortin, 38, became the first to announce his candidature Saturday.

The new leader will be chosen in December.

Since the last elections, former MPs Pierre Paquette, Daniel Paillé and Bernard Bigras said that they would not run.

Interim president Vivian Barbot spent the summer meeting with party supporters, the 75 candidates in the last federal elections and riding presidents for a report which she will issue today.

Barbot says she remains in shock concerning the election results of May 2 but that the party members must simply roll up their sleeves and "bring the party back to life, and win back the support of Quebecers," she said.

Party supporters will also give tribute to Gilles Duceppe at the conference.

In the 2011 elections the NDP won 58 of 78 Quebec seats while the Bloc saw its total diminished to a mere four from its previous total of 47.

Gilles Duceppe called on sovereignists to unite behind Pauline Marois in his address to the meeting in Drummondville.

Duceppe seemed to have recovered of his defeat in May as the former Bloc leader also took on the NDP.

Duceppe took aim at Premier Charest's Quebec Liberal Party, which he said is "at the end of its road."

Unlike PQ leader Pauline Marois, Duceppe did  not demand that Charest resign.

Duceppe also criticized former PQ MNA Francois Legault of "putting his convictions aside," deferring the separation issue as he sets to lead a new party that will not promote the independence.

Duceppe was asked afterwards whether he would continue to offer his viewpoint on provincial politics, as has become the habit of other retired nationalist leaders such as Jacques Parizeau and Bernard Landry.

"You'll find out," he replied, while walking away rapidly.

Leadership candidate Jean-François, 38, has little parliamentary experience. He joined the legislature on May 2 and only sat for a handful of days prior to the summer break.

"The May election results must serve as a catalyst and we must push to do things in a new way," he said.

The challenge is to show Quebecers that the Bloc is essential to voice the concerns of Quebec in Ottawa, he said. The former small town mayor conceded the work is "colossal."

Maria Mourani has reported that she is "98 percent certain" to join the race and called on the members to defy the instructions of former chief Gilles Duceppe and delay the race until the fall.

"I've always been in favour of a race being held as late as possible because candidates must travel Quebec to know what's happening, what people want and how we can proceed," she said.

She said she'll make an announcement next week.

With files from The Canadian Press