Meet your President:
Accepting and embracing change
By Judy Penz Sheluk
Ron Olson knows all about accepting and embracing change. As an active member of Saskatchewan’s local and provincial home builders’ associations since 1974, including serving as a Saskatchewan representative on CHBA’s national Board of Directors, Olson has served on a variety of national committees; most recently, he was the vice-chair of the Urban Council, which addresses land development and city growth issues across Canada.
Currently, Olson is the General Manager of Boychuk Homes, a family-owned business based in Saskatoon. The corporation, Boychuk Construction, has been a member of Saskatoon & Region Home Builders’ Association since the early 1950s; during the company’s 65 years in business they have built more than 7,000 new homes for Saskatoon families, and have taken the lead in developing several residential subdivisions in the city.
Olson also has the distinction of being the first CHBA President to come from Saskatchewan, a province currently experiencing record population growth and strong economic conditions. We sat down with him to find out more about the man, and his plans during his term as CHBA president.
Home BUILDER Magazine: It’s quite an honour to be voted into the position of CHBA president, but you’re also the first member from Saskatchewan to assume the role. Why do you think it has it taken 68 years for a Saskatchewan new home builder to be voted into the position, and do you think that decision will impact your province in any significant way?
Ron Olson: You have to put things in perspective. Traditionally, Saskatchewan in a good year will build 6,000 houses. One of the boroughs of Toronto builds more houses annually than we do across the whole province. In recent years, however, Saskatchewan’s robust economy and active housing market have made headlines across the country. Our province has also led economic growth per capita in Canada for the past three years.
As a consequence of being national president, I think there will be more attention provided to Saskatchewan as a province. Anytime that we have Saskatchewan people on the national scene, it helps raise the profile of our province and helps to make Saskatchewan a better place to invest in, to live in, and to do business in.
HBM: Saskatchewan is having record migration, immigration, and population growth. What sort of challenges does this bring to new home builders?
RO: In Saskatchewan, we are into a learning curve between what buyers want and need; we’ve never seen this influx of immigration or migration. Builders are learning to redesign their plans to work with the various cultural mores.
Another direct result of rapid growth is the costs and funding of infrastructure. Those costs are on the backs of the people who buy those houses across Canada. An individual homeowner in some jurisdictions is paying over $40,000 in levies, fees and taxes that are tacked onto the purchase price of a new home and lot. Saskatchewan homeowners are paying approximately $25,000 in levies, fees and taxes per property. GIC (government imposed costs) are the fastest growing cost in new homes. This will certainly be a priority issue for me over the coming year.
HBM: RenoMark has been embraced by virtually every HBA across the country, a testament to both the program, and the individuals and companies registered within it. That said, is the underground economy still alive and well?
RO: Unfortunately, the underground economy remains a significant problem in the construction industry. Renovator members of CHBA estimate that at least 30 per cent of renovation jobs are undertaken on a “cash deal” basis. We are working closely with Canada Revenue Agency to reduce the amount of in-cash transactions that are being done. We hope to see more aggressive action on their part and other levels of government in the near future. Certainly governments need the money!
HBM: The building industry is very intense. What do you do to “get away from it all?”
RO: I’m an avid outdoorsman. I’ve owned a fly-in fishing lodge for the past 15 years on Cree Lake in Northern Saskatchewan. I’ve also been a pilot all my life; one of my greatest joys in life is flying.
HBM: You’ve been an active member of CHBA for many years. What benefits have you personally derived from that experience?
RO: CHBA has been a tremendous support over my 35 years of membership, a source of so much information, a forum to talk with others in the industry. As well, the CHBA represents our industry extremely well to all three levels of government, enabling us to operate viable businesses and meet the expectations of our customers.
HBM: If you had one message to pass along to CHBA members across the country, what would it be?
RO: We live in a great country with enormous potential. Today we must embrace change and create new opportunities, just as we have done in the past. This is what our industry is all about and makes us proud of what we do.