TORONTO - Julian Fantino's contract as head of the Ontario Provincial Police has been extended by one year until October 2009 by the provincial Liberal government, despite NDP concerns the outspoken commissioner is too political.

The extension of Fantino's appointment was quietly approved by the Liberal cabinet last month and signed by Lt.-Gov. David Onley on Feb. 28, but was not revealed publicly until Tuesday.

Details of the contract extension were not released, but Fantino earned just over $250,000 in his first year as OPP commissioner.

The outspoken Fantino, 65, is no stranger to controversy.

He wrote an angry e-mail to elected officials in Caledonia, Ont., last year accusing them of encouraging divisive rallies against the policing of an aboriginal occupation.

When asked on another occasion if he favoured a return of the death penalty, Fantino offered to buy the first six feet of rope.

But Public Safety Minister Rick Bartolucci said Tuesday he appreciates Fantino's no-nonsense approach.

"There'll be opportunities when we agree and there'll be opportunities when we disagree, but there'll always be the opportunity for communication with Commissioner Fantino,'' Bartolucci said in an interview.

"I like the fact that he's very, very straightforward in his thoughts and he's very, very straightforward in his opinions.''

The New Democrats, however, said Fantino strays too often into the political arena and hasn't done nearly enough to help ease tensions in Caledonia, where the aboriginal occupation of a former housing development is entering its third year.

"Mr. Fantino's penchant for microphones and his overzealous political commentary is not, in my view, in keeping with the highly independent role that the commissioner of the OPP should have,'' said NDP justice critic Peter Kormos.

"Fantino and the government have failed to address the interests of Caledonia in terms of de-escalating -- never mind ending -- the dispute.''

OPP officers and Six Nations protesters clashed several times at the onset of the occupation, and local residents have accused police of inaction and failing to apply the law equally to aboriginal protesters.

About 20 protesters from Caledonia took their complaints to Fantino's home in Woodbridge, Ont., earlier this month, but the commissioner was in Caledonia that day meeting police and residents.

Opposition Leader Bob Runciman -- who considers Fantino a personal friend -- said there's no one else he'd rather have leading the police effort in Caledonia.

However, Runciman did wonder why Fantino was given only a one-year extension of his original contract instead of the three- to five-year contracts given the previous OPP commissioner.

"I guess some people could interpret it as an extension of probation, not necessarily a vote of confidence,'' Runciman said in an interview.

"Unless indeed that's what he personally suggested.''

Bartolucci said the one-year contract was negotiated between Fantino and Premier Dalton McGuinty's office. The premier's office did not say why the commissioner wasn't given a longer term, and Fantino himself declined to comment on his reappointment.

Fantino, a former police chief in Toronto, York Region and London, Ont., was originally given a two-year contract when he first became leader of the 7,000-member OPP in October 2006.

He was born in Italy in 1942 and started his career as a beat cop in Toronto in 1964.

Fantino has changed the look of the OPP, bringing back the classic black and white police cruisers, and pushed hard to have the force to crack down on dangerous drivers, often leading by example.

More than one speeding motorist has been pulled over by the commissioner, who stopped another driver going more than 150 kilometres an hour on Highway 400 near Barrie on Tuesday morning.

"This is not a new thing. I mean, we do this every day,'' Fantino told Toronto radio station AM640.

"We travel extensively in the province, and I feel that you should never ask your people to do anything that you're not prepared to do yourself.''