For the third month in a row, the number of people in Alberta receiving employment insurance increased, according to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada.

In December 2016, nearly 98,000 Albertans received EI benefits — up 1.7 per cent over the previous month. Excluding July 2016 when the EI changes took effect, that is the largest number of beneficiaries recorded in Alberta since they started the numbers in 1997, says Statistics Canada.

Alberta was the only province to see a significant increase in the number of beneficiaries.  

"It's another discouraging report," said Todd Hirsch, ATB's chief economist. 

"Given the economic conditions in Alberta and how it has really been grinding on the labour market, I'm not surprised to see a near-record number of EI recipients in Alberta," Hirsch said. 

Across the country, the overall numbers dropped by 0.6 per cent over the previous month. Saskatchewan saw the biggest decrease at 3.6 per cent fewer people receiving benefits.  All other provinces saw decreases or little change in the number of beneficiaries.

Alberta's numbers show the recession is still taking a toll on the province's cities. The census metropolitan areas of Calgary and Edmonton saw an increase of 4.1 and 1.5 per cent, while numbers outside those areas decreased by 1.5 per cent.

"Calgary has been a harder hit city than Edmonton just because of the nature of job losses that we've seen — a lot of support activity and head office jobs — which are disproportionately located here in Calgary," said Trevor Tombe, an economics professor at the Univeristy of Calgary.. 

In addition to many job losses and people claiming EI, the numbers are staying high because last spring's federal budget extended benefits for regions hardest hit by the recession.

"So, we have a lot more people staying on EI for longer than is typically the case," Tombe added. 


  • A subhead in an earlier version of this story said the number of people receiving EI in Alberta was more than in any other province. That was incorrect.
    Feb 19, 2017 2:24 PM MT