Yes, last night's Kitchener-Waterloo by-election resulted in a resounding victory for the Ontario NDP and new MPP Catherine Fife. But perhaps more noteworthy is the signal the result sends to the McGuinty Libs - as well as his partymates elsewhere in Canada.
In effect, the Libs' by-election message boiled down to two themes. Most of the party's campaign centred on worker-bashing, with a particular focus on picking a needless fight with teachers just as they returned to school. And when that proved to be a failure, the Libs tried out some of their well-worn national-unity hand-wringing - which of course served as the go-to cover for the federal Libs' shift away from social justice toward corporatist policy in the '90s.
But both messages fell flat - and the Libs' failure to pick up the seat provides only a tiny part of the evidence. Even more significantly, they lost an even larger share of their 2011 vote than the PCs (who were supposed to face far more downside based on the loss of a high-profile MPP).
In effect, the Libs' Con-lite messaging led to Con-lite results, to the benefit of a party which actually stands for progressive values. And adding last night's result to the end of Jean Charest's run as leader of the Quebec Libs and the continued stumbling of Christy Clark in B.C., the trend looks to be unmistakable: Libs trying to govern from the right are losing ground on all sides.
Of course, with federal and Quebec leadership races looming, the Libs have some opportunities to try to change course. But their glee in throwing labour under the bus will surely make it more difficult for the Libs to try to win back any of the territory they've ceded to the NDP - and it's far from clear that there's anywhere left to go.
[Edit: fixed typo.]