Ontario Progressive Conservatives will choose a new leader in May.
The party executive met Sunday to nail down the rules for the contest to replace Tim Hudak – a race that has already drawn at least five top-tier candidates. Party members will vote May 3 and 7, 2015 in a preferential ballot, with the results announced May 9 at a convention-style event.
"I'm really happy with the way it's shaping up, with the candidate field so far," party President Richard Ciano said in an interview. "I can already feel a lot of enthusiasm building in the party."
The PCs will use a modified one-member-one-vote system, in which each riding with more than 100 votes is given equal weight – meaning, effectively, that ridings with fewer party members will have proportionately more influence. Ridings in which fewer than 100 party members vote will not be weighted, but will instead have the votes counted as individual votes.
The campaign period begins Nov. 8, and the deadline for nominations is noon on Jan. 30. Anyone who buys a party membership by Feb. 28, 2015 can vote in the contest.
Candidates can spend up to $1.2-million – a cap that applies to all spending, including campaign expenses before Nov. 8. Twenty per cent of all the money they raise after the first $100,000 will be kicked into party coffers. They must also pay a registration fee of $75,000 and a deposit of $25,000.
The high spending cap and lengthy campaign could be a boon to the financially-struggling PC party, which badly needs some extra cash to pay down its $7.6-million debt.
"It's a high priority for me and the executive to get this party in good shape for the next leader," said Mr. Ciano.
Two candidates, MPPs Christine Elliott and Monte McNaughton, have already publicly thrown their hats in the ring. Three more – MPPs Vic Fedeli and Lisa MacLeod, and federal MP Patrick Brown – are expected to announce within days.
Mr. Fedeli has scheduled a barbecue for Wednesday in Toronto, where he will enter the race. Mr. Brown has an event next Sunday in Barrie, in which he is expected to declare. Ms. MacLeod's organisation has been steadily releasing new endorsements over the last few days.
Mr. Ciano said a sixth person has approached him seeking information with a view to possibly preparing a bid. He declined to say who that person is.
Other potential candidates include federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt, who has been encouraged by party members to launch a bid. In a note to The Globe on Sunday, she left the door open to running.
"I am happy in the job I have – serving Milton and working on Transport issues," she wrote.
The leadership contest is expected to generate a wide-ranging discussion on the party's future. In the last decade, it has tried both tacking to the centre and shifting to the right in its efforts to defeat the governing Liberals. Neither plan has worked.
Mr. Hudak resigned on July 2 after leading the PCs to a resounding election defeat the previous month on the back of a promise to slash 100,000 public sector jobs. Veteran MPP and former cabinet minister Jim Wilson is serving as interim Leader until a successor can be chosen.
The Grits wasted no time trying to link the PC leadership contenders to Mr. Hudak's controversial right-wing policy. In a news release sent Sunday, Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca took individual aim at the candidates and tried to link each one – however tenuously – to one of Mr. Hudak's ideas, from right-to-work to his promise to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs.