Slightly fewer Canadians received employment insurance benefits in the first month of 2017, with the number of beneficiaries down 0.3 per cent from December's level.

A total of 567,900 people received EI benefits in January, up 3.7 per cent compared to the same month a year earlier. Statistics Canada said the annual increase is "largely as a result of increases in Alberta."

On a monthly basis, however, 6.2 per cent fewer Albertans used EI. That's the largest monthly per cent decline in Alberta since April 2012, said Statistics Canada.

The monthly decline in Saskatchewan was 1.9 per cent, and Newfoundland and Labrador saw a 1.1 per cent monthly decline. The highest monthly increase in EI benefits was in Quebec, where 2.8 per cent more Canadians turned to the program. Monthly beneficiaries were up by 1.5 per cent in Manitoba and 1.1 per cent in Prince Edward Island.

Canada's unemployment rate fell to 6.6 per cent in February, when the economy saw a net gain of 15,000 jobs.

EI policy changes

"Part of the year-over-year increase in January may be related to changes in EI policy, including those that came into effect in July 2016," said Statistics Canada.

Those changes included lowering the hourly eligibility threshold for EI and extending the length of EI benefits in certain regions facing increased unemployment, like Alberta, parts of Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"The January decrease in the number of beneficiaries in these provinces may reflect an increase in the number of people who have exhausted their extended benefits," said Statistics Canada.

"In Alberta, the January decrease in the number of beneficiaries could also reflect improvements in the local labour market, coinciding with the recent rise in global oil prices, as well as remediation and reconstruction activity in Fort McMurray following the May 2016 wildfires."