Newly minted Manitoba Senator Gigi Osler eager to offer different perspective in Senate

Flordeliz (Gigi) Osler’s hat rack is already piled high with the headgear of a physician, advocate, assistant professor, past president of the Canadian Medical Association and TikTok star, but her newest one is umbrella-sized.

Its coverage offers Osler an opportunity to bring her unique vantage point to a larger stage.

“That’s going to take some getting used to,” Osler said Tuesday when addressed for one of the first times as a Canadian senator.

“I can honestly say I am still a little shocked, a little speechless and beyond humbled to be able to represent our province in the Senate. It is just an incredible honour, and I really can’t wait to get started on the work.”

The Winnipeg-based surgeon and assistant professor at the University of Manitoba was appointed to the Red Chamber as an independent senator on Monday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“I am there as a proud lifelong Manitoban. I am there to represent Manitoba but certainly, as a person of colour and as a woman, I can add that perspective to the work that goes on,” she told CBC Manitoba Information Radio guest host Faith Fundal on Tuesday.

Osler also hopes to bring a health lens as a physician who has been working through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we’ve seen how any cracks in the system became wide gaps with a pandemic. Many of us, we realized how important health is and all of the determinants — social, financial, genetics, diet, housing, water — how all of those go into health,” she said.

“And you can give voice to some of the historically underrepresented groups.”

Born in Winnipeg to immigrant parents from the Philippines and India, Osler is known for her work on diversity, equity, inclusion and health advocacy, including as a mentor to medical students through the Filipino Association of Medical Students in Manitoba, the Prime Minister’s Office said.

She also trains surgeons on a volunteer basis in Africa and has also raised awareness about the impacts of climate change on health.

In 2018, Osler became the first female surgeon and first woman of colour to be named president of the Canadian Medical Association. During her two-year term, she developed the organization’s first in-house policy on equity and diversity.

She has been president of the Federation of Medical Women of Canada since 2021, chair of the Canadian Medical Forum since 2020 and co-chair of the virtual care task force since 2019.

Manitoba has six Senate seats but one has remained open since Murray Sinclair stepped down in January 2021.

Following a process that started in spring and involved interviews and several approvals before being signed off by the governor general, Osler’s appointment became official on Monday.

“It is a House of careful scrutiny and deliberation where, as senators, you defend regional interests,” she said.

“The Senate does scrutinize legislation. The Senate can introduce bills as well. So it is a very important part of our government institution to add balance to the House of Commons and representation to those regions and those groups who might not have a voice.”

As for her medical career in Winnipeg, “that is the question right now that I have to figure out. This is all happening so fast,” Osler said.

She currently practises out of two different clinics, including the otolaryngology-head and neck section of St. Boniface Hospital, where she served as head of the department from 2010 to 2019.

“I have been told it’s possible to do both, and that’s what I’m trying to figure out in the next coming days, weeks and months — just the logistics of how it will all work.”