The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party hopes to wrap up a leadership race by the end of March, just over two months before the province’s fixed election date, June 7.

Nipissing MPP and finance critic Vic Fedeli was selected as interim leader in a unanimous vote around noon on Friday, following the resignation of Patrick Brown.

Just hours later, Fedeli said that the party’s executive had decided to launch a snap leadership race and he looks forward to running.

“I fully expect to be the leader of the PCs through the election,” he said.

"I would hope that the end of March is when the leader would be chosen," he added.

Asked whether a leadership race could cause division in the party so close to an election, Fedeli said he expects to see “lots of great people having a lot of spirited debates.”

“As long as the light is shining on our party and people are seeing the PC platform, I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said.

Brown asked to take a leave

In one of his first acts as interim leader, Fedeli said Friday afternoon that he had asked Brown to take a “leave of absence” from caucus.

“Like each one of you, I was disgusted to first hear of the allegations against Mr. Brown in the media earlier this week,” Fedeli told reporters Friday afternoon.

“Together with caucus, I am asking Mr. Brown to take a leave of absence from the Ontario PC caucus while he has a chance to defend himself,” he added.

Brown resigned as leader of the party following a conference call with his fellow party members late Wednesday night, after CTV News reported allegations of sexual misconduct from two women.

He has denied the allegations as false, and has vowed to remain the MPP for Barrie. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

“The last 48 hours have not been easy,” Fedeli told reporters.

“Most importantly for the brave women who had the courage to come forward and share their stories."

Fedeli said he learned of the allegations through the media.

Party president Rick Dykstra told reporters he was also unaware of the allegations before Wednesday’s report.

Who is Vic Fedeli?

Fedeli, 61, was born and raised in North Bay, Ont., where he built a successful advertising company, volunteered for charities and served on corporate boards.

Fedeli was elected mayor of the small northern Ontario city in 2003 and re-elected in 2006. He worked for $1 per year, donating his entire mayoral salary to charities, according to an online biography.

In the 2011 provincial election, Fedeli won a landslide victory in the district of Nipissing, with 50 per cent of the vote versus 29 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the NDP.

He then served as energy critic and finance critic under PC leaders Tim Hudak and Patrick Brown.

Fedeli ran for PC leader in 2015 but pulled out before the vote and threw his support behind Whitby--Oshawa MPP Christine Elliott, who is the widow of late federal finance minister Jim Flaherty.

Who else might run?

Commentators have speculated that candidates could include federal Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, Nepean—Carleton MPP Lisa MacLeod and Caroline Mulroney, the PC candidate for York—Simcoe and daughter of former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

On Friday, MacLeod said she had informed members of the campaign team about concerns with Brown's alleged behaviour "two or three times," last year, and was told the rumours of "issues about women," were unfounded.

Mulroney said on Twitter Thursday that party members have offered her “one clear message: that all 200,000 members of our PC Party have the right to vote for the person who leads them into the next election.”

On Friday evening, she tweeted: “Our party is stronger when all of our members, across the province have their voices heard about who will lead us into the next election. Together, we will emerge from this leadership race stronger and more united to take back Ontario from Kathleen Wynne and the Liberals.”

Raitt, meanwhile, was asked by CTV Power Play host Don Martin on Thursday whether she is entertaining the possibility of running in a theoretical leadership contest.

“The reality is that we don’t have a lot of time, as a party. The election is very close,” she said.

Pressed further to clarify her intentions, Raitt said the decision is “in the hands of the caucus and the executive right now in Ontario.”

“I’ve spent the last four month doing fundraising in Ontario for people who want to hold the banner of the Progressive Conservatives of Ontario in the next election, and every time we go out, we know there is such an appetite for change,” Raitt said.

“And I want to make sure we go forward in the right direction," she added. "I put my trust in the caucus and I put my trust in the executive to come up with the right process.”

Could John Tory return?

Former Ontario PC leader and Toronto Mayor John Tory was also asked whether he plans to run. He downplayed the suggestion, but did not say no.

“Let me be very clear,” he said. “I’m the mayor of Toronto. I’ve got my hands filled building transit and building housing and I’m just doing that job each and every day.”

Asked again, he said. “I’m mayor of Toronto. I have a job. So thank you for asking.”

The mayor, who lost to Liberal Dalton McGuinty in the 2007 provincial election, offered some advice to the party: “Stay united no matter what,” he said.

With files from CTV Toronto’s Scott Lightfoot and CP24’s Nick Dixon