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Conservative leader Stephen Harper makes a campaign stop in Fredricton, New Brunswick on Monday, August 17, 2015.Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

After years of budget cuts and neglect, Stephen Harper pledged Monday to bolster the ranks of the country's citizen soldiers.

He vowed a re-elected Conservative government would add 6,000 reservists to the military, bringing the total number of part-time soldiers to 30,000 — a figure the prime minister initially promised back in 2008 when the country's defence strategy was unveiled.

The government never hit that target, despite the fact reservists play an integral role in deployments, such as the war in Afghanistan, where they made up as much as 20 per cent of the battle groups that fought the Taliban.

Harper also said he would bolster training for reservists to respond to domestic emergencies such as floods and forest fires. The promise meshes with a flood of pre-election infrastructure announcements by Conservative MPs for the refurbishment of local armouries across the country, many of which have been in need of repairs for years.

"Ensuring the Canadian Armed Forces have the tools and the people they need has always been a top priority for our government," said Harper. "Others would make very different choices — wrong choices, frankly irresponsible choices."

Harper tried to cast himself on Monday as the military's true defender on the national scene.

"I don't have to tell you that the lack of true respect for our military and the true appreciation for the absolute necessity of the work — it does still linger in some parts of Ottawa."

The Conservatives say the recruiting of more part-time soldiers will cost $163-million over three years, and $63.4-million going forward once the target is reached.

The injection of cash comes after years of reductions in which the budget for reserves reduced by as much as 25 per cent. Throughout the last eight years, a sizable portion of the roughly $330-million set aside for part-timers went to reservists, who were called up to full-time duty and worked at National Defence headquarters in Ottawa.

In 2010, the budget situation was so bad at one point the reserves were required to cease training for a short time.

In 2013, the Harper government ordered National Defence to come up with a new funding model and to rebalance the distribution of reservists among the different branches — a program that was supposed to be in place last spring.

But a series of documents obtained through the Access to Information Act, released and reported on by The Canadian Press last winter, show the initiative has ground to a halt.

The plan was politically sensitive given the fact reserve units are sprinkled in 100 communities across the country and any proposed re-organization had the potential to generate a backlash.

"It is relevant and necessary to communicate the ongoing changes, as they will affect a large population of the (Canadian Armed Forces), both primary reserve and regular force, future recruits and public perception," says an undated communications plan, released under access to information.

The documents also referenced polling data that suggest Canadians are in favour of funding cuts to the defence budget, as long as they don't impact the military's ability to respond to domestic natural disasters.

"While the issue of reserve employment can be considered to have a low profile in the public domain, major changes to policies governing the reserves will likely garner significant media attention," the document said.

Harper has hit the Maritimes to try and shore up support for local candidates. Conservative incumbent Keith Ashfield is looking to hold on to the riding of Fredericton.

Ashfield joined Harper and his wife Laureen at an event this morning where they met with a group of about 20 veterans.

A small group of anti-Conservative protesters gathered outside of the Royal Canadian Legion, where the event was held.

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