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Tim Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives have been watching what is happening in Ottawa with some degree of alarm, and worrying how it will affect their fortunes in an election likely to happen next spring.FERNANDO MORALES/The Globe and Mail

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As they gather this weekend in Calgary, federal Conservatives can take solace in the fact that they won't have to face voters for another couple of years.

The Senate scandal that has them suffering through their darkest hour won't have completely faded from memory by then. But perhaps it will no longer be top of mind, and their party will be easily able to talk about other things.

Time, however, is not a luxury that their provincial cousins in Ontario are likely to have. And so Tim Hudak's Progressive Conservatives have been watching what is happening in Ottawa with some degree of alarm, and worrying how it will affect their fortunes in an election likely to happen next spring.

Given what's been in the news this week, one might expect a bigger concern would be getting dragged down by Rob Ford. But while the Toronto Mayor has appeared alongside Mr. Hudak at public events, and Councillor Doug Ford (his brother) has publicly mused about running as a PC candidate, provincial Tories think that's less of a concern. The Fords, a senior official for Mr. Hudak said Thursday, have "a brand all its own that transcends party lines."

The PCs are under no illusion, however, that they're viewed in isolation from Stephen Harper's party. "I expect our numbers to be down because of it," the same official said of the Senate saga.

To those who follow Ontario politics closely, that might seem surprising, or a convenient excuse for bad poll results caused by other factors. True, Mike Duffy did turn up at the provincial Tories' convention back in 2010, performing a cringe-inducing mock interview of Mr. Hudak in which he pretended to still be a journalist.

And certainly, there is some overlap between the federal and provincial parties, with staffers and in some cases candidates moving between the two. But they are still separate entities, and there is really no reason why a provincial leader should have to answer for a federal scandal completely beyond his control.

The reality, however, is that most Ontarians don't follow their politics closely. In what is surely the most unengaged province, many would be hard-pressed to explain the differences between federal and provincial Conservatives.

This phenomenon transcends party lines, and can cut both ways. Back in 2004, federal Liberals complained bitterly that they were forced to wear the decision by Dalton McGuinty to impose a new tax shortly after taking office, when he had 3 1/2 years until an election and they had only a few months. But provincial parties are probably more prone to suffer guilt by association in Ontario, where federal ones usually get more attention.

Once a provincial campaign begins in earnest, it should be a little easier for Mr. Hudak to set himself apart, since Ontario opposition leaders typically have the odd experience of being mostly ignored for years on end and then having the spotlight brightly shine on them for a few weeks. But at the least, the brand confusion will complicate his efforts to make his case to voters.

Mr. Hudak will no doubt be hoping to benefit from the scandals that have plagued Ontario's governing Liberals, most notably and recently around the cancellation of gas plants. The Senate scandal will be liable to feed into the "these guys are all the same" cynicism that can make it difficult for any political party to convince voters that it will clean things up.

There is some irony in the danger that Mr. Hudak will have to campaign at an inopportune time, since he has been alone among the three party leaders in Ontario's minority legislature in wanting an election as quickly as possible.

Privately, his advisers admit to being relieved they didn't get their wish for one last spring, when the scandals involving both Conservative senators and Mr. Ford were just coming to light. In retrospect, they acknowledged, it would have been all but impossible to get their message out.

Half a year later, both of those stories are actually hotter than they were then. Few are now cheering harder than Mr. Hudak's Tories for the federal one, in particular, to burn out as quickly as possible.

Adam Radwanski is The Globe's columnist covering Ontario politics.