By Ted McIntyre

Given the choice, Peter Saturno would probably choose smallpox over small talk. The 54-year-young co-founder and president of Midhaven Homes cuts through the bull like he’s wielding a Samurai sword. He probably sharpens his wit with it too.

But even if you’d never heard the man speak—and it’s always an engaging experience—on paper alone Saturno was well worthy of the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to him at the OHBA’s President’s Gala on Sept. 23 at the Ottawa Convention Centre. Saturno has been an active association member since 1993, having served as both Durham Region Home Builders’ Association president in 1999-2000 and as OHBA president in 2003-2004. He has worked with the OHBA Builders’ Council, Tarion Liaison Committee, Technical Committee and Economic Review Committee. In addition, he was instrumental in the success of the EnerQuality Corporation. As an Energy Star builder, Saturno has been a longtime advocate for leading-edge energy efficiency programs and served on the EnerQuality Board of Directors from 2005-2013. He also served on the Board of Directors for the Tarion Warranty Corporation from 2004-2014 and was a strong advocate for both Ontario’s homebuyers and builders. More recently, he represented Durham region developers on a special working committee on Oshawa Development Charges (DCs). The work resulted in millions of dollars in savings for new-home buyers across the region.

“Always looking out for the ‘little guy,’ Peter is passionate, hardworking and devoted to making our industry and our communities the best they can be,” says OHBA President Vince Molinaro. “He has always been a great supporter of the work of OHBA and, we have no doubt, will continue to play a vital role in our success.”

To illustrate that sentiment, OHBA produced an engaging and humourous video, with Saturno’s son Samuel portraying a young Peter. The video, shown at the President’s Gala, highlighted Saturno’s longtime advocacy of housing affordability and choice. (To view the video, please visit  OHBA’s Facebook page.)

“I’ve got to be honest—I was floored by receiving the award,” says Saturno. “I was truly humbled and touched by it, because when you do something as a volunteer organization, you don’t do it with some end award in sight, you do it because it is good for our customers and our business. I feel I should be giving the OHBA an award. OHBA members build the best house in Canada, North America—even the world.  I’d love to share a piece of this award with everyone who makes their living in this industry.

“No award like this is ever earned alone,” he notes. “It’s always the surrounding cast that makes you look good. The key is to always bring forward decision-makers. If you take ownership of a project or task, you will excel at it.”

Of course, it takes a talented leader to assemble a talented cast. Saturno, who at age 26, co-founded Midhaven with his father Sam in 1986, has an art for getting to the heart of matter. “Time is the most valuable commodity,” he stresses. “You may want good health and good fortune in life, but it means little if you have no time to enjoy it. That’s why you have to park your ego at the door and get on with business, and let’s be blunt about it. In our industry, as far as I’m concerned, there is no such thing as a major problem, just a series of solutions you have not thought of yet. The best thing is to go in and close the door—let’s not embarrass each other publicly—but before you actually start any new policies or regulations, tell us what your problems are, and let us be on the ground floor of trying to find a solution. I’ve never been an advocate of dancing around the issues. Don’t tell me that we can’t; let’s figure out together how we can. There is always a variety of avenues to go down—always an opportunity to massage something or push the elasticity of that envelope. And everyone will benefit. As my late father used to say, ‘If you think you can do something that will benefit someone, why are you still sitting here? Do it!’”

Saturno used that blunt approach to effect massive change in how OHBA plans were viewed by government during his presidential tenure. “One thing I am proud of is getting our message across to the new Liberal government in 2003-2004. They weren’t our biggest fans back then. I remember meeting with Minister of Consumer and Business Services Jim Watson, and we got off on the wrong foot in our first meeting. After a few months, we were like the best of friends, and we still keep in touch now that he is the mayor of Ottawa. Same with then-Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing John Gerretsen—again, meetings where there is a dichotomy in the room. Six months down the road we were consulting with each other. Same thing with David Caplan and George Smitherman.

“We are business people, entrepreneurs,” Saturno continues. “What’s generally good for our customers is good for the overall economy, and we understand we have to pay for our fair share for growth, but some things aren’t our share. That’s one thing I’ve always harped on about development charges.”

Affordability has Saturno fearing for the future, but the meaning of the word has been lost in translation, he suggests. While Saturno refers to it as the ability to purchase a home, he believes government hears it as “we don’t make enough profit.”

“It terrifies me for a couple of reasons. Number one, interest rates have been virtually nonexistent for the past 10 years, so I see purchasers buying as much house as they can buy. As interest rates start inching forward, you will see a switch. People who are buying 50-foot homes will buy 40-footers; people buying 40 will buy 30; people buying 30 will buy townhomes, but there will be a segment who just can’t afford a home, and there will be definite pain for some families who have to renew. Second, there is a land supply issue. Because of that, land costs have skyrocketed, and they’re not going back down. So now there’s a problem with competition—dotted line affordability, because there are so many builders vying for that land, and at one point in the near future I actually worry that the midsize builder will be forced out of the market, which will have a direct impact on competition, which again will impact pricing, and then we come back to affordability. It’s a domino effect. Five or 10 years from now I can see the elimination of that small or midsize builder.”

All levels of government—federal, provincial and local—continue to hamper development and building with red tape, new regulations and poor interpretation of existing regulations, Saturno says. “They should work more closely and expeditiously with our industry. We create jobs and provide revenue—400,000 jobs, and $40 billion in annual economic activity. We need to be included more and listened to earlier in policy planning. We are problem solvers; we are an industry that is a catalyst for positive change. We lead the country in energy efficiency. We give hundreds of millions of dollars to charity—not because we have to but because that’s the kind of industry we are.”

Saturno’s message for the future is just as straightforward for Tarion, which he cautions not to make changes for the sake of change. “Tarion’s mandate is dispute resolution. Don’t muddy the waters. It’s the most comprehensive and successful warranty program in the world. Tune the engine, tune what you have done in the last several years, and if it is firing properly on all cylinders you may not need any further changes.”

Renowned for his company’s close contact with customers—from pre-construction meetings to follow-up service and repairs—and Midhaven’s high-quality, green-friendly creations, Saturno isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, despite his Lifetime Achievement Award. “Quite frankly my career is just beginning,” he says. “I’m a young 54.”