SUSSEX, N.B. -- One of New Brunswick’s veteran MLAs has served notice he’s leaving the job. 

Progressive Conservative Bruce Northrup’s departure will create a third vacant seat in the provincial legislature.

"It's a proper time for me to retire," said Northrup, a four-term MLA. 

Northrup says he informed Premier Blaine Higgs of his intentions long ago, but he also acknowledges that this has been a difficult year, including the debate on mandatory vaccinations, and his decision to break with his own party, over health care reform at the local hospital.

"My decision was a good decision as far as I'm concerned," Northrup said. "And the mandatory vaccines, I really struggled with that as an MLA, but I know I can look myself in the mirror and say you made the right decision on that too."

Northrup says planning is already underway for a byelection this fall to fill his vacant seat, although two other byelections for long vacant seats have already been postponed because of the pandemic.

It has been more than eight months since former premier Brian Gallant resigned his seat, and more than nine months since the death of MLA Greg Thompson.

Liberal leader Kevin Vickers has been urging Higgs to call those byelections, but observers say the premier is just as likely to send all New Brunswickers to the polls.

"If the province is still in the phase we're at, say in the fall, that would see more likely to have a provincial, full general election," said UNBSJ political science professor J.P. Lewis. "Obviously, that leaves those two seats vacant for a few more months."

Election officials say planning is underway, regardless of who will be voting.

Elections New Brunswick says it has been busy examining ways that it can make voting safer for electors, as well as workers, during the pandemic.

Chief Electoral Officer Kim Poffenroth says pandemic-related guidelines for returning officers are being drawn-up with the help of public health officials.

After representing the Sussex area for 14 years, Northrup will be leaving his seat in October, and plans to spend more time with his family.