By Susan Zielinski, Red Deer AdvocateAn Earl Dreeshen lawn sign was propped up in the chair that the Conservative incumbent would have occupied at Thursday’s candidate forum for the federal Red Deer riding.But his absence didn’t stop someone in the audience from asking him a question.“Do you think constituencies are effectively represented by humans or house plants? This is a relevant question since so many Conservatives are skipping out on public forums,” said forum moderator Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta who read the question to laughter from the crowd of about 90 people at the Golden Circle.Voters go to the polls on Monday.NDP candidate Stuart Somerville and Green Party candidate Mason Sisson took a few jabs at the missing candidate.So did Eric McCabe, vice-president of the local Liberal association, who represented Liberal candidate Andrew Lineker who was ill.“Mr. Dreeshen and the Conservative Party must take Red Deer for granted. They didn’t even bother to send a representative,” said McCabe at the forum organized by Central Alberta Council on Aging, Council of Canadians and Friends of Medicare.The forum carried on with questions on a variety of subjects from senate reform to child poverty.Somerville said the soaring cost of the Conservative’s new F-35 jets shows the Harper government’s problem with democracy.“I think the biggest issue with the jets is no one was open with us in the first place about what they’re going to cost. Every time we asked about it we were told something different or ‘we’ll tell you later,’” Somerville said.The NDP candidate also criticized the Conservative’s lack of support for immigrants despite the need to build Canada’s population.“Over the past few years under Conservative government we’ve seen funding cut for programs that help these new immigrants integrate into the community, that help them to have access to English as a second language and to find those services that they need.”Sisson said the Conservatives would rather build more prisons instead of putting more money towards health care. Prisons don’t help inmates become better citizens, he said.“You learn how to be a better criminal. They call it ‘con college’ for a reason,” Sisson said.He said the Green Party is concerned about seniors and wants to enhance the Canadian Pension Plan by doubling the rate to 50 per cent of income received during working years from 25 per cent.The income seniors earned during their lives can’t compare to the cost of living now, he said.“Twenty-five per cent of that is a joke,” Sisson said.McCabe said the Liberals would ensure corporate taxes keep Canadian businesses competitive, in addition to the national health care support they receive.By Susan Zielinski, Red Deer Advocateszielinski@reddeeradvocate.comThis article was published in the Red Deer Advocate on April 29, 2011. Read the full article on the Red Deer Advocate website.