OTTAWA -- The race to replace Andrew Scheer as the leader of the federal Conservative party got underway today, giving hopefuls 45 days to declare their intention to run.

As the Conservative Party of Canada announced over the weekend, candidates have until Feb. 27 to throw their hats into the race.  

In order to qualify, the Conservative Party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee has decided that candidates will be required to submit a non-refundable registration fee of $200,000 in instalments and will also need to collect 3,000 signatures of endorsement from registered party members. Contestants are being given until March 25 to submit the full fee and signatures.

“It’s a process designed to test the organizational abilities of our next leader,” said Dan Nowlan, co-chair of the leadership election organizing committee, in a statement. “It’s not only your ability to fundraise, but more importantly your ability to inspire Canadians to join our party, and to do so under tight timelines similar to the pressures of an election.”

The high bar for entry could result in a narrower field of candidates than the much longer 2017 leadership race, which had a $100,000 fee and required just 300 members’ signatures. That race saw 14 candidates campaign for the top job with the party.

As things stand, CTV News has confirmed Conservative MPs Pierre Poilievre and Erin O’Toole will be running and have begun organizing, while fellow caucus member Marilyn Gladu has declared she’s campaigning for the top job too. So will longtime political organizer Bryan Brulotte, who has already officially launched his own leadership campaign.

Other names have been widely speculated on as contenders, including former interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay. Both are said to be seriously considering throwing their hats into the ring and could both very soon be declaring their intentions. Similarly, former Quebec premier Jean Charest is also considering a bid.

In an interview on CTV News Channel on Monday, Conservative strategist Jason Lietaer said the “top talent” coming out as confirmed and prospective candidates is a good sign for the party, and the tighter timeline and likelihood of another election happening in less than four years is likely a contributing factor to the names on the roster.

“Ms. Ambrose – if she steps in, she’ll be the odds-on favourite immediately. She’s, I think, a person a lot of people want to see there, but you’ve got some really incredible candidates. Pierre Poilievre is positioned more to the right than most of the candidates which will make him a very strong candidate. Mr. MacKay and Mr. Charest; huge names in federal politics over the years, so what a list. It’s sort of exciting to be a Conservative and to look at this list,” he said.

Lietaer said that a central question in this race will be where on the spectrum of conservativism the party should position itself – whether it’s best to pivot to the right, or to become more progressive.

The Conservatives will elect their next leader on June 27 in Toronto. In order to vote in that election, members have to register with the party by April 17.

Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced Dec. 12 that he was stepping down as leader but would be staying on until a replacement is named.

Under Scheer, the Conservatives increased their seat count to 121 seats in the 2019 federal election, but in the weeks following the election, Scheer faced a steady stream of criticism for his performance and personal stance on same-sex marriage and other social issues. He was also questioned about his expenses and use of party funds in the lead-up to the federal campaign.

With files from CTV News’ Graham Slaughter and Rachel Gilmore