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Bloc Quebecois chooses hardline sovereigntist Beaulieu as new leader

Mario Beaulieu speaks to supporters in Montreal Saturday, June 14, 2014 after being named new leader of the Bloc Quebecois.

Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The new head of the Bloc Quebecois says he plans to recapture the hearts of Quebec voters by putting a greater emphasis on independence.

Mario Beaulieu, the former head of the nationalist St. Jean Baptiste Society, won a slim victory Saturday over his only opponent in the party's leadership race, Bloc MP Andre Bellavance.

Beaulieu said explaining the benefits of breaking away from Canada will be his top priority.

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"Our adversaries have often announced the death of the independence movement," he told a crowd of supporters at a concert venue in Montreal.

"But I have a surprise for them: we are returning with more determination and energy than ever."

Beaulieu has a difficult task ahead as he tries to rebuild the floundering party.

The Bloc was reduced to just four seats in the Commons in the 2011 election from the 49 it held after the 2008 vote.

Bellavance had the support of the other three Bloc MPs but Beaulieu campaigned on a promise to make sovereignty a priority above all else.

Beaulieu captured 53.5 per cent of the vote.

Some 19,000 party members were eligible to vote and 58.5 per cent of them cast a ballot in the leadership race.

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The previous Bloc leader, Daniel Paille, resigned last December for health reasons. Paille took over from longtime party head Gilles Duceppe after the 2011 election.

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