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Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois reacts during a news conference in Montreal, on June 6, 2011.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

Dissident voices in the Parti Québécois caucus have forced Pauline Marois to accept changes to her go-slow approach to achieving sovereignty.

The changes will likely be unveiled on Thursday, though it is expected they will include a proposal that would allow citizens to demand a referendum on sovereignty – a so-called referendum by popular initiative.

However, the man leading the charge, MNA Bernard Drainville, was called on the carpet by his colleagues for having gone public last week with his proposed reforms before presenting them to the caucus.

"I have no regrets," Mr. Drainville said. "Above and beyond the manner [the reforms were presented]… I feel a great deal of opening amongst the colleagues and within the leadership as well."

Mr. Drainville unveiled a 10-point plan to improve the party's standing with the public and reshape the sovereignty strategy. Deep divisions within the sovereignty movement and the party have seriously undermined Ms. Marois's leadership in recent months.

"Given that Ms. Marois has agreed to debate [the reforms]… I am confident … that there can be adjustments to the strategy," said the dean of PQ caucus members, François Gendron.

Earlier this week, Ms. Marois said she was open to the idea of holding a wide public debate on Quebec independence, a proposal demanded by the radical voices in the sovereignty movement. The outcome of the debate could eventually force Ms. Marois to adopt an even more forceful strategy on sovereignty.

Heading into the crucial caucus meeting on Wednesday, her leadership in tatters and party support plummeting, Ms. Marois urged sovereigntists to rally around a common strategy to achieve independence.

"We have to get a grip on ourselves. We need to regain cohesion," Ms. Marois said. "We have to rally and define a game plan, to follow it and respect it … so that we can again become the alternative to the Charest government. I know there's a lot of work to be done and I know we can do it."

Just hours before the caucus meeting, the president of the PQ's Montréal-centre regional riding association, Atim Léon, submitted his resignation, explaining that the party "was crashing into an electoral brick wall of historic proportions."

Ms. Marois "has to be deaf not to hear what people are saying. … She has no appeal," Mr. Léon said in his letter of resignation, criticizing Ms. Marois's step-by-step approach to achieving sovereignty.

The strategy dubbed "sovereigntist governance" would require a future PQ government to seek more powers from Ottawa in the hope that the anticipated federal-provincial crisis that would follow would help boost support for sovereignty. A referendum would then be held at an "appropriate time," but the strategy gives no specifics as to when that would be.

Five other PQ Montreal riding association executive members were also threatening to resign if the caucus failed to adopt more aggressive measures to promote and achieve political independence.

The political storm started last June when four prominent PQ caucus members resigned, striking a devastating blow to Ms. Marois's leadership and the party's chances of forming the next government.

Since then, pro-sovereignty splinter groups have emerged, joining others to demand a more assertive leadership and a clear plan to achieve independence.

"The PQ is going through tough times," said PQ MNA Alexandre Cloutier. "I'm also aware of the very tough mountain [Ms. Marois]has to climb for the future. But I have confidence in her."

At the beginning of the meeting, 45 PQ caucus members stood up and loudly applauded their leader for several minutes, as though to reassure supporters the party can ride out the political turbulence.

Many still have in mind the Bloc Québécois's humiliating defeat at the hands of the NDP in Quebec in last May's federal election. Some fear a similar fate may await the PQ if Ms. Marois fails to reunite the pro-sovereignty forces in the coming months.

"I expect the worst is over and that we can look ahead," said Bloc Québécois interim leader Louis Plamondon, who attended part of Wednesday's PQ caucus meeting. "This is something we didn't need, but it's a period in time that I hope is over."