MONCTON, N.B. - The New Brunswick riding that once was the stronghold of former Conservative premier Bernard Lord has gone Liberal.

Chris Collins, 45, a former Moncton city councillor, easily won the Moncton East byelection on Monday night, defeating Tory candidate Chad Peters by more than 1,000 votes.

Final results were Collins, 2,628; Peters, 1,505; and NDP candidate Helene Lapointe, 373.

The win strengthens the Liberal presence in the Moncton area and gives Premier Shawn Graham an electoral boost as he steers the province into difficult economic times.

There is only one other Moncton representative on the government benches -- Health Minister Mike Murphy.

"It shows, as you would expect, that a certain segment of voters want to see stronger representation in the government caucus and possibly, eventually, in the cabinet,'' said Geoff Martin, a political science professor at Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.

The win does not dramatically alter standings in the provincial legislature, although it does provide Graham with a more comfortable margin of seats.

Standings in the 55-seat house are now 30 Liberals and 25 Conservatives.

The Tories were critical of Graham calling the byelection so quickly following Lord's retirement from public life at the end of January.

They said Graham wanted the byelection over with before his government brings down what is expected to be a tough budget in March that may include tax hikes and service cuts.

The byelection campaign was low-key, with the only fireworks coming over the government's decision to ban children under 14 from off-road vehicles.

The Liberals brought in the under-14 ban following the deaths of two children on all-terrain vehicles last year.

At one point, off-road enthusiasts protested outside Collins's campaign office and vowed to do what they could to sway people not to vote for him.

The issue did not get a lot of traction with voters, partly because Moncton East is an urban riding while the off-roading issue is more of a rural concern.

Nevertheless, Collins promised off-road organizers he would take their concerns to the Liberal caucus.

Lapointe asked voters to look beyond the traditional parties and choose an alternative.

However, the NDP is struggling in New Brunswick where it is currently without a leader.

Collins said he believes the roughly 11,000 eligible voters in the riding wanted to increase Moncton's representation on the government benches.

"People are telling me that they're concerned Moncton only has one government-side MLA,'' Collins said.

Peters said he thought voters were unhappy with the government's handling of such issues as the off-road ban and its decision to cancel a promised tax rebate on home heating costs.

"Politicians have to keep their word, especially when it's difficult,'' he said.