Premier David Alward has called a byelection for April 15 in the riding of Kent, which was vacated by the resignation of former premier Shawn Graham.

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Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is running in the Kent byelection. (CBC)

The timing of the byelection means Kent voters will have a chance to see the Alward government’s March 26 budget before they head to the polls.

Alward’s Progressive Conservatives have a clear majority in the legislative assembly so the byelection will not tip the balance of power.

But Liberal Leader Brian Gallant is hoping to use the byelection as a chance to get a seat in the legislature.

Alward said at a news conference the Kent byelection will give voters chance to render a verdict on Graham's handling of the controversial Atcon file.

"I believe that they will have an opportunity to really send a verdict to the Liberal party for their handling of the Atcon scandal, for the $70 million that New Brunswick taxpayers have lost," he said.

The Progressive Conservatives won a 2012 byelection in the riding of Rothesay. Health Minister Ted Flemming replaced former MLA Margaret-Ann Blaney, who was appointed as the president and chief executive officer of Efficiency New Brunswick.

The most recent Corporate Research Associates political poll had the Liberals leading in popular support in New Brunswick but in a three-way race with Alward’s Tories and Dominic Cardy’s New Democratic Party.

The Tories have 42 seats in the 55-seat legislature and the Liberals have 12.

Campaigning has started

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Former premier Shawn Graham officially resigned as the Liberal MLA for Kent on March 11. (CBC)

Gallant has won the Liberal nomination in the riding and has already been campaigning in Kent.

The Progressive Conservatives had initially promised not to run a candidate against Gallant if another Liberal MLA had resigned last year following his election as Liberal leader.

But the Tories confirmed last week that offer had expired.

The Tories will hold a nominating convention for the byelection on March 20.

Alward said his party is not going back on its word by running a candidate in the upcoming byelection.

The Tories offered to stay out of the way if a Liberal member quit to allow Gallant to get into the legislature, he said.

Graham didn't quit for that reason, so the offer doesn't apply, Alward said.

"It's clear Shawn Graham had to step down with the scandal associated with Atcon. We believe the people of Kent have an opportunity to have their voice heard from all parties."

Graham announced he was leaving politics following a scathing reporting by the province’s conflict-of-interest commissioner. Ryan ruled Graham had been in a conflict in regards to the Atcon file and said he should be fined $3,500.

The eastern New Brunswick riding of Kent has been one of the safest seats for the Liberals for decades.

It has been held by Graham since 1998 when he won a byelection following the retirement of his father, Alan, who had represented the riding since 1967.