The number of Canadians getting employment insurance benefits in December was up more than seven per cent from a year earlier, with Alberta accounting for almost all of that increase.  

Almost 540,000 Canadians were drawing EI in December. On a year-over-year basis, almost 37,000 more people were getting regular EI benefits.

In Alberta, which has borne the brunt of the global slump in oil prices, the downturn has seen the number receiving EI benefits double in a year — from 31,220 in December 2014 to 62,480 in December 2015. 

Alberta's EI numbers could get worse. The province's unemployment rate rose to 7.4 per cent in January, up from 4.6 per cent a year earlier. It was the first time since 1988 that Alberta had a higher rate than the national average.

Statistics Canada said Alberta had more beneficiaries in almost all major occupation groups in December — including management, natural and applied sciences, primary industry, and processing, manufacturing and utilities.   

Saskatchewan has also been hit by the energy slump, but to a lesser extent than Alberta. The number claiming EI in Saskatchewan was 15,210 in December, up 38 per cent from a year earlier.

Other provinces saw much smaller year-over-year changes in their EI rosters. Manitoba's numbers were up 12 per cent over the year and Newfoundland and Labrador's rose by 10.5 per cent.

Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick were the only provinces that saw year-over-year drops in the number of EI beneficiaries. 

The Canadian Real Estate Association expects average house prices in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador to fall in 2016 because of the downturn in the oil industry.