Less than a week after their party suffered a shockingly poor result in Ontario's election, teams of Progressive Conservatives are already starting to line up behind contenders to replace Tim Hudak.
At the centre of much of the early leadership talk is deputy leader Christine Elliott, who ran against Mr. Hudak for the leadership in 2009.
A source close to Ms. Elliott, who could not be reached for comment on Tuesday, told The Globe and Mail that she made up her mind last weekend to run and is "working hard toward an early announcement."
Other party insiders cast doubt on whether Ms. Elliott – whose husband, former federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, died in April – has firmly decided. But they confirmed that her would-be backers have been reaching out to fellow Tories to offer positions on her campaign.
Meanwhile, several other PC caucus members and at least one federal MP are testing the waters.
Among the likely candidates is Nepean-Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod, who sources say has been canvassing fellow Tories to gauge support. Although best known as the opposition's lead attacker in recent years, Ms. MacLeod would likely position herself as a relative moderate offering a shift back to the centre-right after the party's lack of success with a hard right turn in the recent campaign.
Somewhat less certain is the interest level of Vic Fedeli, the former North Bay mayor who served as the Tories' finance critic before the election. While lacking the networks within his party that Ms. Elliott and Ms. MacLeod enjoy, Mr. Fedeli would nevertheless be taken seriously as a contender.
Other members of the PC caucus known to have been putting out feelers include one of its youngest members, Monte McNaughton. The 37-year-old has been seen as a rising star within his party, although many Tories expressed the view that he would benefit from more polish before mounting a leadership bid.
While Mr. McNaughton could also suffer for the perception that he is too similar to Mr. Hudak, because of an inclination toward both strident fiscal conservatism and rigid message discipline, party president Richard Ciano – long rumoured to have leadership ambitions – could struggle to find supporters because of accusations that he wasn't loyal to the outgoing leader.
Another potential candidate who also faced intermittent complaints about disloyalty, long-time MPP Frank Klees, did not seek re-election this year and is said to not currently have interest in replacing Mr. Hudak. Having placed second (ahead of Ms. Elliott) in the last leadership contest largely on the strength of strong social-conservative support, however, Mr. Klees could mount a competitive bid, and erstwhile colleagues expressed the view that he might be persuaded to do so.
Among federal Conservatives, St. Catharines MP Rick Dykstra is the only one to have openly expressed interest in Mr. Hudak's job, acknowledging to local media that he is considering a bid. Party sources say that Mr. Dykstra, who serves in Ottawa as a parliamentary secretary, has been actively laying the groundwork.
More senior members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's caucus are being approached by Tories hoping they might make the switch to Queen's Park. Neither Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt nor Treasury Board President Tony Clement unequivocally ruled out that possibility when contacted by The Globe and Mail on Tuesday, but both said they remain committed to their current posts. And while Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird could not be reached for comment, even Ontario PCs expressed skepticism he would give up one of Ottawa's best jobs to spend four years in provincial opposition.
Among the disincentives for him and others is that whoever wins Mr. Hudak's job will be inheriting a party that has spent more than a decade out of office and requires a major rebuild before Ontario's 2018 election. In their fourth straight election defeat, the Tories were reduced from 37 to 28 seats, saw a significant decline in their share of the popular vote, and are believed to have been left deeply in debt.