02/28/2018 12:43 EST | Updated 03/02/2018 04:23 EST

Federal budget promises money for 45,000 military graves in need of repair

OTTAWA — Canada's military dead will be able to rest a little easier after a federal budget that promises millions of dollars to fix tens of thousands of veterans' graves that have fallen into disrepair.

The Canadian Press reported last year that an internal report by Veterans Affairs Canada had identified a lack of money as the reason why more than 45,000 military graves across the country — or nearly one in four — were in need of repairs.

The report said that at current funding levels, it would take 17 years to complete all the outstanding work, which include cleaning, restoring and replacing headstones.

But the federal budget aims to address the problem in five years by quadrupling the amount of money earmarked to maintain the 207,000 military graves in Canada — $5 million a year, up from $1.2 million.

"That is a very tangible thing that the government needs to be able to do is look after graves and gravesites and cemeteries," Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O'Regan said in an interview Wednesday.

"And it's very emotional for people. … In Newfoundland, a lot of your family has moved away. They don't have the family around to help them keep it up, and it's heartbreaking for them. I've dealt a few times with people crying."

The new funding largely applies to the graves of veterans buried in Canada, including those killed in Afghanistan and on peacekeeping missions, as well as the final resting spots of those who served in Korea and the Boer War.

It will not go towards the graves of the more than 110,000 Canadians who were killed during the First and Second World Wars and are buried overseas. They are the responsibility of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Canada provides the commission, which also tends the graves of soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India who were killed in the two world wars, about $10 million a year. Veterans Affairs found those graves were well kept.

The department had previously been receiving about $5 million a year to maintain military graves in Canada, but that amount was slashed in 2003 because the department couldn't say at the time which graves needed work.

The new money prompted surprise and applause from the Royal Canadian Legion as well as the federal NDP, both of which echoed O'Regan's sentiments about the importance of honouring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for Canada.

"These people sacrificed for their country, and nobody was looking after them," said Danny Martin, secretary of the Legion's poppy and remembrance committee. "It's good to have that they have been recognized."

NDP veterans affairs critic Gord Johns said residents from one of the communities in his Vancouver Island riding had actually approached him recently with concerns about the state of some military graves in the area.

"They were asking if there was any support that we could find, so they'll be delighted," Johns said.

"Certainly it's very important that we honour and respect our veterans and make sure that their gravesites are presented in a respectable way and looked after. It's our duty as Canadians."