QUEBEC - Gerard Deltell, the new leader of the Action democratique du Quebec, faces a mountain to climb in re-establishing the crippled party as a credible political force.

The right-leaning party has been devastated in the past year by a disastrous election performance, the resignation of its new leader after less than a month on the job, and two defections from its six-member caucus.

The party has also been rocked by allegations by Gilles Taillon, Deltell's predecessor, that the party's books are rife with financial irregularities.

But the 45-year-old Deltell, a longtime TV journalist first elected in last December's general election, is confident he can help lead the party back to respectability.

He told a news conference Thursday he will continue pursuing the party's centre-right, provincial-autonomist vision in which the sovereignty debate gets shelved in favour of other issues like revamping Quebec's economy.

"We have to get the job done -- and we will," Deltell said in Quebec City after being named the new ADQ leader.

"It's not a good situation and I recognize that."

Deltell, a former political reporter who worked for Radio-Canada, TVA and TQS, succeeds Taillon, whose tumultuous leadership lasted less than a month.

Taillon triggered a firestorm of controversy when he recently said a conspiracy hatched between the federal Tories and influential members of his own party led to his demise.

In a scathing open letter, Taillon said his decision to sever ties with the federal Conservatives and create an autonomous provincial party prompted a harsh response from the party's old guard, including former leader Mario Dumont.

Deltell was coy when asked whether he would re-establish ties with the federal Tories. He acknowledged he was a member of the old Progressive Conservative party in the early 1980s, just like Premier Jean Charest.

He was more affirmative when asked where he stood on the national question.

While the ADQ once campaigned for independence, in the party's infancy in the mid-1990s, Deltell suggests his view of Canada is similar to that of Newfoundland's Danny Williams.

"I am not a sovereigntist," Deltell said.

"I am an autonomist. An autonomist means what? It means we shall respect the power of the province and we shall respect the power of the national government. That is autonomy.

"You know in some other provinces, like Newfoundland, you have a little kind of autonomist. And we can learn from them."

As for the fundraising improprieties raised by Taillon, Deltell said he has not been contacted by Quebec provincial police about any investigation and would not stand in the way of one.

Deltell was the consensus choice of his three remaining caucus colleagues to lead the party. He also had the blessing of Dumont, who stepped down as leader earlier this year after the ADQ's poor electoral performance last December.

"Mr. Deltell is a very good leader," said Francois Bonnardel, one of the four ADQ caucus members.

"He will be able to prepare a new beginning for our party. We have three years in front of us to make Quebecers a credible political offer."

To rebuild the battered brand, Deltell said the ADQ must develop beyond its stronghold of Quebec City.

"So many people wrote so many times (about) the death of so many politicians," he said. "Just watch us.

"Let me be clear with you. During the last 10 days or the last week, I received hundreds of emails, saying `If you do it well, I will get back'."