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It's almost too perfect a fit.

For all his branding as a cop's cop, Julian Fantino has for many years come off more like a politician in police uniform. Now, if all goes according to plan, the former chief of the Toronto and Ontario forces will get to take his natural place in Ottawa.

For Stephen Harper's Conservatives, Mr. Fantino - who made it official Tuesday that he'll carry the party's banner in a coming by-election in Vaughan - is a nice get. His high profile, and his strong ties to the Italian-Canadian community, mean he stands an excellent chance of winning the suburban seat long and comfortably held by former Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua. And provided he's able to check his ego at the caucus or cabinet door, his tough-on-crime image will help Mr. Harper advance some of his core messages.

Still, there's a degree of unease, even among some Tories, about the manner in which Mr. Fantino approached his previous jobs, and the message sent by the governing party giving him its seal of approval.

To begin with, there was the grandstanding. Mr. Fantino did not become the country's best-known police chief by accident; he actively sought out headlines.

Often, as with his tendency to personally pull over speeding drivers while he was running a provincial police force, his attention-seeking was harmless. But it could also veer into recklessness. As Toronto's chief, he fear-mongered - turning up at murder scenes to warn of the streets turning into a bloodbath. "It may be down in the numbers," he once said of the crime rate, foreshadowing the line favoured by his future political party. "But violent crime is up, it's been up, it's been going up for years, and now we're seeing an explosion of guns and violence."

If the manner in which he crafted his public persona raised concerns, so did what happened away from the cameras. Even by the naturally hierarchical nature of police forces, Mr. Fantino seemed to have an unusually low tolerance for being questioned.

That worry particularly came to light during a saga in which he brought forward disciplinary action against two of his Ontario Provincial Police officers, only to wind up on the defensive about allegedly pursuing a vendetta against them. During court hearings, a senior police officer testified that he heard Mr. Fantino say, "Are you going to execute the disloyal one, or should I?" (The disciplinary action was eventually dropped after an unsuccessful attempt by Mr. Fantino to oust the retired judge serving as adjudicator.)

Finally, there was his rather open disdain for civilians who criticized or otherwise inconvenienced the police. Concerns about the use of taser guns, after the Robert Dziekanski tragedy, were "Monday morning quarterback decisions" coming from people who "could never pass recruitment training." Of particular concern to many Conservatives was his handling of the native land occupation in Caledonia, Ont., which included an e-mail sent to municipal politicians warning he would hold them responsible if they showed support for an activist protesting against the occupation.

That Mr. Fantino was able to remain a police chief for as long as he did, despite many controversies, was a tribute to his political skills. And ironically, given his new affiliation, it was in his relationship with Liberals that they mostly came in handy.

By reaching out to Mr. Fantino after he lost his job as Toronto's chief, Dalton McGuinty's government was able to ensure he didn't run provincially for the Ontario Progressive Conservatives. And as OPP commissioner, Mr. Fantino avoided clashing directly with the government; instead he gave it political cover, his hawkishness helping neutralize a law-and-order file that could otherwise have been a vulnerability for the Liberals.

Those Liberals, of course, will be more willing to criticize Mr. Fantino now that he's playing for the other team. But his career change should probably be welcomed by those who previously criticized his methods.

In electoral politics, Mr. Fantino's polarizing qualities - his strong views, his desire for attention, even his thin skin - will be far from unique. Certainly, they'll be less out of place than in his previous incarnation.

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