U.S. President Barack Obama’s proposed 2010 budget makes it clear he intends to achieve significant progress on climate change and clean energy, despite the formidable economic crisis.

The president had signalled his seriousness throughout his campaign and then with his cabinet appointments. His budget now includes a wide range of concrete steps toward reducing dependence on oil; makes huge investments in clean technology, renewable energy and energy efficiency; increases the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 35 per cent; and generally aims at switching the transportation system to electric vehicles while increasing fuel economy standards in gas-powered vehicles.

Predictably, opposition in Congress is gearing up for battle, hysterically projecting enormous increases in gas prices at the pump and retail electricity rates, and calling the cap-and-trade proposal to reduce CO2 emissions, “a tax on everything.” Sound familiar?

Whatever the outcome, Obama’s bold national leadership on climate change, and his determination to proceed, is unambiguous and genuine. And he will use his exceptional ability to connect with Americans over the heads of his opposition.

Contrast Stephen Harper’s approach to climate change and clean energy — the antithesis of bold national leadership, transparency, and constructive debate bringing Canadians together.

While Obama champions an effective national cap-and-trade system that sets hard caps on carbon emissions, Harper silenced any intelligent discussion during the last election and produced an anemic plan for intensity targets applicable only to large industrial emitters that is justly ridiculed for allowing emissions to rise with production levels. His recent budget lacked any serious environmental focus, notably with respect to renewable energy and energy efficiency.

The federal government is so missing in action, Ontario and Quebec have now joined Manitoba and British Columbia to extend caps on CO2 emissions beyond large industrial emitters as part of the California-led Western Climate Initiative. Regional tensions, real or imagined, simmer and rise to fill the void left by the absence of national leadership.

Bold national leadership, transparency and constructive debate seem to be too much to hope for in Canada. No wonder so many Canadians look enviously at the U.S. and are cheering Obama on.