FREDERICTON -- Former premier Brian Gallant has announced his resignation as New Brunswick Liberal leader, and is asking the party to hold a leadership convention.

"This has been one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make," Gallant said Thursday at a news conference in the rotunda of the provincial legislature.

Gallant said he plans to remain as Opposition leader until the party chooses his replacement.

"In these uncharted waters of a minority government I will stay at the helm of the party to provide some stability while the party chooses its next leader for the next election," he said.

Gallant became leader in 2012, and premier in 2014 at the age of 32, but came up short in September's provincial election.

His minority government was toppled two weeks ago in a confidence vote on the Liberals' throne speech, and Progressive Conservative Premier Blaine Higgs and his minority government were sworn-in last week.

Gallant will remain as MLA for his riding of Shediac Bay-Dieppe, and said he believes a leadership convention is needed to breathe new life into the party.

"I do think it is crucial for the future of our province that there be a strong Liberal party, the strongest as possible. To have a strong Liberal party I think a leadership race will help reinvigorate some new ideas into the discussion," he said.

People's Alliance Leader Kris Austin issued a statement thanking Gallant for his years of service and wishing him well in the future.

Standings in the 49-seat legislature are 22 Tories, 21 Liberals, three Green party members and three People's Alliance MLAs.

Donald Wright, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick, said Gallant likely spoke to his caucus and party, read the tea leaves and learned his future is not as party leader.

Still Gallant said he believes the province needs the Liberals to govern again in the future.

"I believe the Liberal party is the party that is best suited to grow the economy in a way that benefits all New Brunswickers, to strengthen education, to address health care wait times, to protect and enhance people's rights, to advance women's equality, to protect the environment by combating climate change, all the while addressing the provincial deficit," he said.

Over the last two weeks, Gallant has repeatedly said he didn't do enough in his four years as premier to highlight the benefits of official bilingualism to the province, and dispelling some of the myths.

There is a clear divide in the political map following September's provincial election, with Liberal support mainly to the francophone north and Tory support to the anglophone south.

Gallant said Thursday that he'll now take the opportunity to tour the province and try to find more unity on language issues.

He said it needs to happen in a respectful, fact-based manner.

"There are people who have concerns about what they perceive and may have happened to them because of bilingualism. There are people who obviously want to see their rights defended," he said.

"So I think that we can find common ground, and I think the more people know the facts the better informed they will be to have this discussion that we are clearly going to have as a province."