OTTAWA - Veterans Affairs spent millions less than it budgeted for maintaining war graves last year in cemeteries like those in Italy visited recently by Julian Fantino, a report reveals.
The departmental performance review of the memorial and cemetery maintenance program shows just 2,500 of 7,000 grave markers were properly maintained last year.
Fantino, the Veterans Affairs minister, is under fire for attending Second World War commemorations in Italy last week while controversy raged in Ottawa about his department's treatment of veterans seeking mental health benefits.
The government earmarked more than $18.5 million in fiscal 2013-14 to help preserve the memory of Canadians who died serving their country, the programs analysis report shows.
Instead, the department spent $2.6 million less, or just over $15.9 million, with just eight people doing the preservation work — far short of the 41 full-time employees originally projected for the program.
The analysis also says foreign service-providers completed maintenance work on only 80 per cent of Canada's overseas memorials, short of their 85 per cent target.
The report's conclusions add to the frustrations voiced by critics and veterans alike over Veterans Affairs Canada's return of $1.13 billion in unspent funds to the federal treasury since 2006.
And it had Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau calling on Prime Minister Stephen Harper to apologize for the failure to maintain the symbols of the ultimate sacrifices made by Canadians.
"We thought we'd reached the point where we couldn't be shocked anymore by the prime minister's shoddy treatment of our veterans," Trudeau said in the Commons.
"When will the prime minister apologize for his disrespect of our veterans?"
Harper fired back, accusing the Liberals of voting against measures introduced by the governing Conservatives to enhance veterans' programs.
"Veterans are not fooled," said Harper.
"They know all they get is rhetoric from the Liberal party; they get actions and services from this government."
For his part, Fantino brushed aside questions about the cemetery maintenance, instead touting his government's recent achievements in providing services to military veterans.
The performance analysis said work continues on the maintenance of Canadian memorials, cemeteries and grave markers, "both in Canada and overseas, to honour the sacrifices and achievements of those who died in service."
The department said work continues through the Last Post Fund on the installation of military markers on unmarked veterans’ graves.
Follow @tpedwell on Twitter
Also on HuffPost