Richard Wolfli was appointed as the new Honorary Consul of Slovakia in Calgary. He replaces Professor Ludovít Zanzotto who is retiring from his tenure as a professor at the University of Calgary. Honorary Consulate has jurisdiction for the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
The inauguration ceremony was attended by the State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic Peter Burian, and the Ambassador of Slovakia to Canada, H. E. Milan Kollár. Canada was represented by Hon. Michelle Rempel, Minister of State for Economic diversification of Western Canada, other members of House of Commons in Ottawa, Alberta Provincial Legislature, municipal councillor in Calgary, Honorary Consuls of Switzerland and Austria, and other guests. Opening ceremony continued with an evening reception for members of the Slovak community in Calgary and a performance of the Slovak folk ensemble Slnečnica (Sunflower).
State Secretary Burian emphasized the benefits of the Honorary Consulate for further enhancement of cooperation between Slovakia and Western Canada also in the field of economy and trade. Alberta is the engine of economic growth in Canada and the forthcoming free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada will facilitate and deepen trade relations between the two countries.
Interviews with Slovak State Secretary of Foreign Affairs Mr. Burian and the ambassador to Ottawa, Mr. Milan Kollár, are published in the Short News section.
Richard Wolfli shared with us his plans and ideas for the activities of the Honorary Consulate:
The Canadian Slovak: Fist of all, congratulations on your appointment. What are the opportunities to extend the relations between Alberta and Saskatchewan and Slovakia?
Richard Wolfli: Thank you very much. Opportunities have changed over the years. The position of Honorary consul used to be more to assist travellers and for Canadians to obtain visa. Now the focus of the job is to create more economic connections. To a degree I am following in the footsteps of my father and others who were involved in the Canada Slovakia Chamber of Commerce, Alberta chapter a wonderful organization. Opportunities are never the same from one year to another. Right now there is the issue of Ukraine and Russia and the issue for many countries, Slovakia included, is energy independence. And Canada has for last 20 or 30 years been a leader in technology, leader in regulation, leader in strategy and Slovakia is increasingly looking to Alberta and Saskatchewan as we have proven ourselves to be able to extract natural gas from very difficult formations. With horizontal drilling, with fracturing it is my goal to bring this kind of technology, this kind of knowledge to bring to the Slovakia's resource base and bring them the ability to produce their own energy. Just today I was speaking with the Minister of Western Economic Development and the Federal government of Canada has conducted a study on fracking and has concluded that there is not one single case in Canada where fracking has damaged drinking water or aguifer. Even if there is a lot of fear about the process that fear is largely unfounded.
The Canadian Slovak: Please tell our readers about your self and about your professional carreer.
Richard Wolfli: I was born in Bratislava, my family left when I was three to South Africa and at age seven we came to Canada. I was educated at the University of Calgary in Mechanical Engineering and I went to work at various oil and gas companies as a Petroleum Engineer. I have been the President of two public companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and I have transitioned my career from being a hands-on Engineer to being a Manager of Strategic development for companies. I am married; with wife Monique we have two children, daughter Sabine and son Roman.
The Canadian Slovak: You mentioned that Alberta and Saskatchewan are leaders in energy extraction. How could you help to get this technology into Slovakia and bring Slovak experts here so that Slovakia can also become energy self-sufficient?
Richard Wolfli: That effort was already started some 10 - 15 years ago and there was already a transfer of technology. My father took technologists and drilling managers and engineers to Slovakia and the Czech Republic and provided assistance. Since then, things have improved, changed, got much better, some things they have accepted, some not. Just this afternoon we had a meeting in Calgary for the Slovak State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Peter Burian and Ambassador Milan Kollar, with a number of oil and gas executives. There was a very good turnout and people today are interested in Central Europe, where 10 - 15 years ago it was such an unknown quantity that people were afraid to do business there. And especially in Slovakia, even more so than most other countries in Central and Eastern Europe as the country has an excellent fiscal regime, it has a very reliable government that has not done anything too radical, it is very friendly to business, it is a member of EU and Eurozone, it has balanced its budget since the great recession of 2009, it is in better financial shape than most other European countries. That is a great confidence builder for companies who want to go there. I was told that there are 270 companies in Calgary that are involved in international projects that include Indonesia, China, Turkey, Iran, Russia, all over the place, but as far as I know, none of them in Slovakia. There is a great opportunity in Eastern Slovakia for natural gas, there were wells drilled 20 - 30 years ago and there are certainly natural gas reserves there, but it is tight, it is difficult gas to get out of the ground in an economic way, and when I spoke to a Vice President of Exploration in a major successful Canadian company whether they would be interested to look at opportunities in Slovakia and he said yes. What it really needs is somebody to move the ball ahead; we need to move toward the goal, we are not there yet, but every day the ball must move closer to goal.
The Canadian Slovak: What are the opportunities for Slovakia to do business in Alberta and Saskatchewan?
Richard Wolfli: Trade between Alberta, Saskatchewan and Slovakia is almost non-existent. Slovakia exports dairy products, automobiles, some manufactured products that almost all go to Ontario, which is a huge consumer market. The kind of industrial goods needed in Western Canada for our industries are not manufactured in Slovakia. It is very interesting, because the heavy industry that exists in Slovakia, the ability to build cars and very complex machinery, washing machines, airplane and train parts, which are all done exceptionally well in Slovakia, they are the same technologies, knowledge, and engineering qualities that allow one to build downhole motors, downhole drill bits, drilling rigs. I think that it is a great opportunity for Slovakia to manufacture things that are in demand in Canadian and specifically in Alberta market.
The Canadian Slovak: How can Slovak community help your Consulate.
Richard Wolfli: That is a fascinating question. I have a great respect for people who left their country, didn't know where they were going, they left their country for largely political reasons, and left for new worlds, they were like Christopher Columbus sailing across the ocean and I have tremendous respect and honor for my father and people of his generation who paved the way in Canada and all around the world for Slovaks to come. There is a second diaspora of people now. At Christmas time at the church I met young Slovaks who are coming, they are energetic, they want to do business and they have connections to their home country that is very close to them. Lots of people who left on the 60's and 70's twere leaving a country that they never thought they would see again. I see a great opportunity in the coming years for the next generation, whether they are children of first immigrants or whether they are recently arrived in their twenties starting families; these are the people with the energy and a passion to get involved in business. My focus is going to be largely on business. There are other people in the community who will handle social events, I and my family will love to attend dancers who were here today, they were stupendous, I've enjoyed their performance tremendously, but my focus will be economic development and to do that I will need people who are willing to take risks, which hopefully will work out and make everybody, themselves included lots of money.
I am 47 years old now, I know that my entrepreneurial appetite has changed in the last twenty years, and I am much more conservative and much more careful now, but I also know that it takes a willingness to leap, takes a willingness to take a chance, and the best people to do that are those people who are young, and energetic and willing to travel and I will be happy to help them and guide them as well as other members of the community, there is lots of people who have a great deal of knowledge help these young people and they are the ones who will hand the baton to as they will finish the race.
The Canadian Slovak: Thank you and we wish you lots of success and we will talk again soon.