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Christine Elliott expected to announce bid for Ontario PC leadership

Ontario PC Leader Tim Hudak listens as deputy party leader Christine Elliott speak to reporters at Queen's Park in Toronto on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013.

Frank Gunn/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Christine Elliott is set to announce a bid for the leadership of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives as the party seeks to rebuild after its devastating election loss.

Ms. Elliott has called a news conference for Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. on the University of Toronto campus, not far from the legislature. A senior PC source confirmed she will launch a leadership bid. She will become the first person to formally enter what may become a crowded field of contenders.

Ms. Elliott's even-tempered collegiality commands respect from all three parties. The widow of federal finance minister Jim Flaherty – a major figure in Canadian conservatism – has both extensive networks in the party and a large reservoir of goodwill. Both inside and outside politics, Ms. Elliott has worked on services for people with disabilities. She has three grown children, including one who has a developmental disability.

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As deputy leader and health critic, Ms. Elliott has crafted extensive policy, cultivating a reputation for quiet competence and a concern for social issues that could help to soften her party's hard-edged reputation. She is also regarded as a moderate compared with departing PC Leader Tim Hudak – whose right-wing, government-cutting platform led the party to crushing defeat.

Despite her high rank in caucus, however, the soft-spoken Ms. Elliott had a relatively low profile under Mr. Hudak. She attracted less attention than some of her more vocal fellow MPPs – a possible liability for a leader who will have to spend the next four years chipping away at the governing Liberals from the opposition benches.

Since last week, people connected to Ms. Elliott have been assembling a campaign team and soliciting support. A source told The Globe and Mail at the time she had decided to jump in the weekend after the election loss, and that she wanted to make an early entry into the contest.

Ms. Elliott, who has represented Whitby-Oshawa since 2006, ran against Mr. Hudak for the leadership in 2009. She finished third.

The party executive is expected to set a date for the leadership convention next week.

MPP Lisa MacLeod, the Tories' outspoken energy critic, is also contemplating a bid and her supporters have been sussing out the sort of backing she would receive.

Others in the party have been pressing finance critic Vic Fedeli, the affable former mayor of North Bay, to run.

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Monte McNaughton, one of the youngest members of caucus, has also not ruled out a bid, but said he wants to see the rules for the leadership before deciding.

Potential federal contenders who have left the door open include federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, and backbenchers Rick Dykstra and Paul Brown. Mr. Clement told The Globe he is "not actively pursuing" the job, but that some people are trying to persuade him to run. Foreign Minister John Baird, another possible candidate, has not responded to a request for comment.

The Liberals thumped the PCs in the general election this month, winning a majority government while the Tories lost nine seats.

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