TORONTO - The race to succeed former Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory is officially underway.

The party has set the ground rules for the contest, which will end June 27 when a new leader is chosen at a convention in Markham, north of Toronto.

Candidates will have the next seven weeks to sign up new members, but that could make things difficult for those who already have a job in the legislature.

Conservatives Tim Hudak, Christine Elliott, Randy Hillier and Frank Klees are widely expected to run for the top job.

Some key Tories wanted a longer race so that the party could expand its base and heal wounds left in the wake of Tory's resignation.

But the party executive held firm to having a new leader in place by July 1st.

Tory resigned as leader after losing a byelection March 5, 17 months after he failed to win a seat in the October, 2007 provincial election.