The casual observer of Canadian politics might mistakenly interpret that the debate surrounding the oil and tar sands of Alberta sharply divides the country. Both sides dominate the air waves and media-sphere as they struggle to push their positions. The cacophony of this division makes it appear that Canadians are evenly split on the issue however, the numbers bear out a different story.

Only about 3 percent of Canadians are full-throttle supporters and another 3 percent are environmental advocates. Add into that 15 percent that strongly support but do not advocate for tar sand development and 16 percent opposed. Added together this amounts to only 37 percent of Canadians having a strong opinion either way. That leaves about 63 percent of the country are centrist-right, centrist-left or undecided. Where is the group that advocates for their positions?

This data tends to suggest that there is room for compromise on tar sand development. That there is a clear majority of Canadians who want the government, environmental groups and industry to stop bickering and work together for a solution. Continue development of the sands, there is no doubt that it benefits the economy and produces jobs. Beef up regulatory protections so that the rights of native populations are not trampled in search of profit. Pass laws that set industry and equipment standards to mitigate the effects on the environment, climate and nature. Economic development and environmental protections do not have to be diametrically opposed, there is room for compromise so that both sides benefit. A strong regulatory framework that monitors development can help to ensure that these concerns are addressed.

A compromise is sometimes described as an agreement in which everyone is unhappy. However, in this particular debate, it appears that the only way to please the majority is by compromise. Industry supporters and environmental defenders have a chance to meet in the middle to enact real change for the benefit of the economy, the environment, native groups and Canadians generally. They need only seize this opportunity.