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Want the right answers? Ask the right questions

Scott Costen is our new columnist for the Queens County Advance.
Scott Costen is our new columnist for the Queens County Advance.

The French writer and philosopher Voltaire famously said, “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

If you apply this maxim to the March 21 committee of the whole meeting of regional council, only one participant gets a passing grade.

During a largely aimless and fruitless discussion about a revised bylaw for food trucks, North Queens councillor Gil Johnson emerged as the voice of reason.

“I have a question,” he said. “It’s a burning question behind this whole process and procedure.”

When it finally came, Mr. Johnson’s question spoke volumes about the current state of affairs at council.

“What is the strategy here?” he asked.

While I didn’t attend the meeting in person, I did subject myself to the cruel and unusual punishment of listening to it online.

And while I can’t be absolutely certain about this, I swear I heard crickets chirping in the background after Mr. Johnson posed this provocative, earth-shattering question.

No one in the room acknowledged or attempted to answer the question in any meaningful way. Perhaps they think strategy is best left in abstract, lifeless form on the region’s nifty looking charts, graphs and matrixes.

Countless hours have been wasted since concerns were raised in June 2016 about the ridiculously low $10 fee paid by food truck operators and the lack of restrictions on where they can operate.

The topic has appeared on the council agenda numerous times, although it’s no longer clear exactly how many times.

That’s because the region has removed from its website the agendas for all council meetings except the current one. Previously, interested citizens could review agendas going back several years. But at some point after the new council was sworn in, all of these documents were deleted from public view.

So, following Voltaire’s credo and Mr. Johnson’s example, I’d like to ask why these documents were taken down, who ordered them removed and what was the rationale behind it?

In fact, while I’m at it, let me ask some other questions.

What’s with all the fires on the former navy vessels at Port Mersey Commercial Park? Are these noxious infernos, which choke our residents and imperil our emergency services, something taxpayers are supposed to accept meekly as the cost of doing business with R.J. MacIsaac Construction?

What is the plan to address population loss in Queens County?

We lost 5.6% of our population over the last five years. Upon hearing the results, both the mayor and chief administrative officer shrugged and said the numbers were “expected.” Does this mean we should just roll over, play dead and expect the same numbers (or worse) in the next census?

Mahone Bay just picked up $1.3 million in provincial funding for a new affordable housing complex. Numerous studies – and a recent presentation to council – have demonstrated an urgent requirement for more affordable housing units Queens County.

Where’s our provincial funding? What’s the status of discussions concerning downtown zoning changes that might free up more accessible, affordable housing and fill some vacant buildings?

What is happening with the Trestle Trail bridge restoration? There hasn’t been an update on this file in a very long time. What’s the problem?

Finally, why on earth are we wasting time and resources on a contest to rename Elm Street in Liverpool? It’s a tiny, empty road with no civic addresses. How would renaming it after a prominent citizen be an “honour” and how is this a good use of staff and resources?

At the end of the day, it’s up to residents of Queens County to ask their elected officials the right questions. It’s the only way we’ll ever get the right answers to the challenges we face.

Scott Costen is a freelance writer and editor based in Liverpool. He can be reached at

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