12/29/2018 09:29 EST | Updated 01/03/2019 10:59 EST

Goldie Ghamari Says Young Progressives Can Change Right-Wing Parties From Within

The Progressive Conservative MPP for Carleton says she’s voted NDP in the past.

Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Goldie Ghamari poses with Premier Doug Ford in a Facebook photo.

TORONTO — Goldie Ghamari remembers the exact day she settled on her political views.

The 33-year-old Progressive Conservative MPP admits that she's voted for the NDP and Green parties in the past — "I never voted Liberal though, for some reason" — but decided to call herself a PC after chatting with a friend.

Fellow lawyer Manny Montenegrino, who has represented former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, helped her find her way.

"By the end of that conversation, I realized that I am a progressive conservative. Because I'm fiscally conservative, socially progressive," Ghamari tells HuffPost Canada during an interview at her office in Queen's Park.

She sips coffee (black, straight from the Keurig) and chews gum in front of dual computer screens that display her website and a profile of her Ottawa-area riding, Carleton.

Ontario PC MPP Goldie Ghamari takes a selfie with a cardboard cutout of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau taking a selfie.

Ghamari says her most "millennial" trait is how she uses tech and social media. She regularly posts Instagram stories from Queen's Park with frequent appearances by Hudson, a legislative intern who sat in on HuffPost's interview.

But social media is a double-edged sword. Ghamari faced a lot of online hate, including racist comments and fake accounts impersonating her, after she won the party's nomination for Carleton in 2017.

Ghamari is an international trade lawyer, which she says allowed her to make enough money to take on pro bono clients. She recalls assisting an 18-year-old girl with her mother's estate after she suddenly passed away. The girl was a full-time student working a minimum wage job and didn't have any other family. After years of helping people one by one, Ghamari decided that working in politics would let her help Ontarians all at once.

Montenegrino and other high-profile Ottawa conservatives assured Ghamari that her socially-progressive views have a place in their circles.

"There are a lot of different kinds of conservatives with a lot of different ideologies. Everybody has a place," Ghamari says they told her. "If you have an issue or you have a concern or something, work with the party. Do it from within."

The first-term MPP makes no secret of her interest in LGBTQ rights, despite the fact that her party's new leader, Premier Doug Ford, has been criticized for his comments about the community and appears in public with figures who spread misinformation about it.

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When a delegate at November's PC policy convention put forward a motion to have the party declare gender identity a "Liberal ideology," Ghamari fought back. She wrote up a statement about why she disagreed with the motion and shot it out to all the reporters at Ontario's legislature.

"I do not support it in any way, shape or form," the MPP wrote. "I am, and always will be, a strong voice for everyone in the riding of Carleton, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or any other factor."

Ghamari says that she has family members who are transgender. Her parents came to Canada in 1986 from Iran, a country where being gay is a crime punishable by lashings or death.

"My parents came here to get away from religious extremism," Ghamari says. "If you are part of that community in Iran, your life is forfeit. Either you are executed or the government forces you to change your gender."

If you are part of that community in Iran, your life is forfeit.Goldie Ghamari

Ghamari has made the point in front of conservative audiences before.

On stage at the federal Conservative party's policy convention in 2016, she gave a passionate statement about LGBTQ rights. Delegates voted to scrap a policy opposing marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Ghamari wasn't planning to speak that day, which might explain why she wore a casual leather jacket and Margaret Thatcher T-shirt, but when she heard a man on stage defend the policy, she changed her mind.

"Some guy says, 'Oh it's not right, we can't force a baker to sell a cake to a gay couple,' or whatever," Ghamari says. She turned to Michelle Rempel, a Conservative who has spoken up for trans rights in the federal legislature, and told the MP to get up on stage.

"She basically said, 'Why don't you do it?' and pushed me up."

Ghamari ad libbed a 30-second statement about what happens to LGBTQ people in Iran. She used a phrase used by former prime minister Pierre Trudeau, that Ghamari says comes from a Farsi saying: "government does not have a place in your bedroom."

The government that Ghamari is part of, however, has been widely criticized on these issues.

It faces multiple court challenges from LGBTQ parents and youth for repealing the province's health and physical education curriculum and temporarily replacing it with material first introduced in 1998. The repealed curriculum introduced students in Grade 3 to the ideas that some families may have two mothers or two fathers, and that different people express their genders in different ways.

Ghamari says she has no issue with repealing the curriculum.

"I support what our government is doing and what we have done to date," she says.

Parents should ultimately decide what their children learn and when, Ghamari says, so she agrees with the government's move to repeal the curriculum until more extensive consultations can be completed.

Ontario MPP Goldie Ghamari marches in a Pride parade with a banner representing the Conservative Party of Canada.

After HuffPost's interview with Ghamari, it was reported that, so far, many parents surveyed actually support the curriculum her government took away.

On a different issue, Ghamari has been accused of being one of the more radical members of her caucus.

A CBC News article in May quoted Ghamari as saying that she doesn't believe climate change is man-made.

The MPP says she misspoke because she was so exhausted after weeks of working 15-hour days on the campaign trail.

"The words in my head didn't come out the way that I wanted them to," she says. "It was in the context of, I don't believe the people of Carleton are responsible for climate change, essentially."

She says that the former government's cap-and-trade program unfairly punished individual consumers despite the fact that multinational corporations are responsible for the lion's share of emissions.

There are still articles published about the comments she made in May, Ghamari says, and people come up to her to ask why she denies climate change.

"It doesn't bother me. I'm here to help people at the end of the day."

This story has been updated with Ghamari's statement that the phrase "government does not have a place in your bedroom," comes from a Farsi saying.

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