In the circles I move in, the issue is leadership all right. From my 13-year-old son who disdainfully imitates the ads that channel Mr. Rodgers, to my 95-year-old mother-in-law who says, in no uncertain terms, "I want to see him defeated," the issue is Stephen Harper.

Harper is not popular in the Maritimes. Even some Conservatives will run their campaigns trying not to mention him and depending on local issues and traditional voting patterns to see them through. I’ll come back to that another day.

I forced myself to listen to Cross-Country Check-up on CBC Radio today. The invited guests and the callers were – without many exceptions – all on the same page: Stephen Harper is the only leader we can trust to run the country right now, in perilous economic times.

Why do people feel this way about him? He’s a mean guy. His ads say, "We’re better off with Harper," although I can’t imagine any real person saying that. He’s presided over the most anti-woman government in recent history. He’s led a government that’s targeted less advantaged groups and the arts and cultural communities and has deepened our involvement in a war that most Canadians profoundly disagree with.

I ask myself all the time why so many people are so willing to vote against their own self-interest. The people who phone in to Cross Country Check-up – do they consider that the CBC may be sold to private interests if Harper leads a majority government? And that get-tough-on-crime bill that they’re always talking about – do they know (or care) that the prisons in a Harper-majority Canada will be privately owned for profit and staffed by minimum wage workers?

Today, I’ve heard people say that Stéphane Dion is a decent guy, intelligent and has integrity. I’ve never heard anyone, ever, say that about Harper and yet one of them is considered to be qualified to be prime minister and the other isn’t. Go figure.

And so I worry about what will happen in other parts of the country. My mother-in-law – now in Nova Scotia but someone who lived for many years in the notorious 905 zone in Ontario – can’t believe that her former neighbours will be guilty of helping Harper realize his majority dream. My husband has reminded her that they twice elected Mike Harris.

Harper has accused Maritimers of living in a culture of defeat. If Quebec and Ontario and points west vote for enough Conservatives to give Harper a majority government, the culture of defeat will have spread far beyond the Maritimes.