Slowly but surely, New Brunswick's Progressive Conservatives are gearing up to choose their next leader.

There's still no date and there are still no rules in place for the leadership vote, but potential candidates are beginning to explore whether they have the support to mount credible campaigns.

"There are people making calls," says PC Party president Jason Stephen.

Blaine Higgs

Tory MLA Blaine Higgs, the former finance minister, is also considered a possible contender for the PC leadership job. (CBC)

"There's been no formal visit to the party asking for the rules or anything that formal, but I'm sure there are people out there making calls."

Stephen says five or six "quality candidates" have shown interest.

At least two veteran Tory politicians have confirmed they're thinking about it, while others are staying quiet for now.

The party president wouldn't name names, but PC party members have been talking about a half-dozen potential candidates:

  • Mike Allen: The long-time MP for Tobique-Mactaquac retired this year rather than run for another federal term. His likeable demeanour prompted many provincial PCs to approach him not long after he announced his retirement. "I will be considering it," he told CBC's Information Morning Fredericton last month.

  • Brian Macdonald: The former soldier, ex-political staffer and second-term MLA for Fredericton West-Hanwell told CBC this month he is "chewing on" the idea.

  • Ted Flemming: First elected in a 2012 byelection, Flemming quickly entered David Alward's cabinet as health minister and earned a reputation for his blunt, colourful speaking style. He's the grandson of Hugh John Flemming, premier from 1952 to 1960, and the great-grandson of James Kidd Flemming, who held the job from 1912 to 1914.

  • Blaine Higgs: Higgs became a popular figure, even among non-PC supporters, for his tendency to speak candidly about the job of finance minister, which he held from 2010 to 2014. He often publicly lamented the inability of governments, including the one he was part of, to make politically tough budget decisions. His failure to hit his deficit targets didn't diminish his standing among party members.

  • Jake Stewart: Another PC MLA elected when the party won power in 2010, Stewart represents Southwest Miramichi-Bay du Vin, a rural riding that sprawls from Boiestown, north of Fredericton, to the Northumberland Strait.

  • Monica Barley: Barley, a lawyer from Kent County who practises in Moncton, is the dark horse of the race, having never held elective office. But as a bilingual woman with an impressive resume, she is attracting support from PC members who want a fresh face.

Other candidates could still come forward, including from among the former Conservative MPs who were defeated in last month's federal election.

And many party members have encouraged Saint John Mayor Mel Norton to join the race.

A party committee will decide when the vote will be held and what rules apply.

The PC constitution sets out a one-member, one-vote system, but organizers must decide, for example, whether to give equal voting weight to each riding.

Brian Macdonald

Progressive Conservative MLA Brian Macdonald has said he is thinking about a run for the party's vacant leadership job. (CBC)

Stephen says some of the unpopular moves by the Liberal government of Premier Brian Gallant have encouraged more candidates to think about running.

The Liberals "haven't exactly had a honeymoon," he said.

"I think people see a huge opportunity."

Another consideration for leadership candidates is the bill passed into law by the Liberal government in the last session.

It amended the Elections Act to require that candidates in any party leadership race disclose the identities of those who donate money to their campaigns.

The PC race will be the first to take place under that requirement, which imposes the same transparency requirement on party races as it does on election campaigns.