05/17/2013 10:08 EDT | Updated 07/17/2013 05:12 EDT

PQ's proposed changes to Bill 14 leave critics skeptical

Two Parti Québécois ministers have published an open letter outlining amendments to Bill 14, its controversial proposed legislation that aims to revamp the province's language laws.

However, critics are skeptical that the minority government is truly addressing concerns of the anglophone community.

The letter appears today in Montreal's only English-language daily newspaper, the Montreal Gazette.

In it, Language Minister Diane De Courcy and the minister responsible for Quebec's anglophone community, Jean-François Lisée, review several key issues that affect English-speaking Quebecers.

"What we're saying is we listened to the arguments in the last few months about Bill 14, and we're coming back with a new and improved bill that is trying to introduce many of the concerns that were raised by the anglo community amongst others," Lisée told CBC News on Friday.

As it stands Bill 14 gives the government the power to revoke a municipality's bilingual status if the English-speaking population dips below 50 per cent. In the letter, the ministers say the bill will be amended to ensure that the cultural history of bilingual communities is preserved.

It also touches on the so-called Pastagate, when an Italian restaurant was reprimanded for the prominence of Italian words including "pasta" on its menu. The letter says practices at the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) will be reviewed.

The letter also addresses concerns around military families. Bill 14 would force military personnel to send their children to French schools, overriding their current exemption. The ministers say this section will be removed from the bill and dealt with in separate legislation.

As a minority government, the Parti Québécois will have to gain support from at least one of the opposition parties in order to pass Bill 14.

The Liberals have already said they plan to oppose the bill. The Coalition Avenir Québec has said it supports the principle of the draft legislation but is calling for amendments.

Genuine outreach or political tactic?

In the letter, the ministers say the need to work with other parties isn't the only reason for their proposed changes. "We want to make it clear that having heard all of the arguments, and even had we been a majority government, we would have moved, on our own, on a number of issues," they say.

But Anthony Housefather, mayor of Coté Saint-Luc, says he believes that the open letter is nothing more than an attempt by the Parti Québécois to win the political support necessary to pass the bill.

"They're writing this simply as an attempt to try politically to get the CAQ on side with whatever amendments they're going to propose. They're not doing this because they believe in gestures to the English-speaking community," Housefather told CBC News.

Housefather said he is most concerned about the provision allowing the province to strip a city of its bilingual status. The majority of residents in Coté Saint-Luc are English speakers. Currently, bilingual status can only be removed at the request of the local city.

"Not one mayor in the province has supported it," Housefather said. "There is deep disdain for this particular provision of the bill and instead of saying they've listened to people and dropped it, they are now talking about offering amendments without going into details as to what they are."

Jack Jedwab, executive director of the Association of Canadian Studies, also said that the proposed amendments are too light on detail and questions the motives of the Parti Québécois.

"If so much of the bill is going to be dropped, then what's the purpose of it in the first place other than to salvage the political face of the government?" he said.

"I think the whole thing is much ado about nothing," said Liberal MNA Geoff Kelley. He said the Liberal opposition still intends to vote against the bill.

Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault has said in the past his party could be persuaded to vote in favour of the bill if key amendments are made.

There was no word from the CAQ today about whether the changes outlined by Lisée and De Courcy in this open letter will help them make a decision.