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Syncrude Canada Ltd. oil sands worker housing camps near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The province lost 63,500 jobs in the first eight months of this year, according to government data, showing the toll weak oil prices have had on the sector. (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg)
Syncrude Canada Ltd. oil sands worker housing camps near Fort McMurray, Alberta. The province lost 63,500 jobs in the first eight months of this year, according to government data, showing the toll weak oil prices have had on the sector. (Ben Nelms/Bloomberg)

Alberta has twice as many EI recipients as a year ago Add to ...

The number of Albertans on employment insurance benefits climbed to its highest level since the Great Recession, another sign of how hard the western province has been hit by the weak oil prices.

Employment insurance recipients in Alberta reached 58,000 in September, the most since January, 2010, when Canada and other economies were reeling from the global financial crisis.

A 50-per-cent drop in oil prices has triggered mass layoffs in Alberta as energy companies slash spending and put projects on hold. The lower corporate spending has had a knock-on effect on the energy supply chain and other parts of the province’s economy such as real estate and financial services. It has dragged wages down and contributed to a slowing population growth as Albertans looked for work elsewhere.

“There are lots of job losses. They are getting more widespread. We are seeing the repercussions in the broader economy,” said Pedro Antunes, deputy chief economist with the Conference Board of Canada. “What we are going to start to see is more and more impact on the domestic economy,” he said.

Employment insurance beneficiaries doubled in Alberta from September of last year with every sector from arts to retail seeing a rise in recipients, according to data released by Statistics Canada on Thursday. In comparison, the total number of Canadians on EI was up 8 per cent to 543,800 over the same period.

The steepest year-over-year increases were seen in occupations related to the energy sector, including mechanical engineers and those involved with processing petroleum and natural gas.

The number of EI recipients in Alberta who last worked as a pipe fitter, heavy equipment operator or in another trade job doubled to 24,350. Beneficiaries who last worked as an engineer and other applied science occupations nearly tripled to 5,840.

Banking, accounting and other financial services occupations were also hit. Recipients in those occupations nearly doubled to 7,460. Meanwhile, EI beneficiaries among those who last worked in sales and other services jobs jumped nearly 60 per cent to 6,540.

About Staffing, an Alberta employment agency, has been approached by more and more job seekers.

“Without a doubt, our numbers have increased,” said Chris Massie, the agency’s operations manager.

Before the oil downturn, the firm used to receive about 2,000 applicants a month. Now it receives as many as 3,000 a month, with applicants ranging from geologists to accountants and administrators. The number of businesses it works with has dropped to about 325 from 450.

Mr. Massie said there is some hiring taking place among companies that are not as exposed to the oil and gas sector. “There are businesses in Alberta that have identified market opportunities in other areas of the country,” he said.

Although Alberta’s economy is on track to contract this year, economic output in Ontario, British Columbia and Manitoba is expected to increase.

For 13 consecutive months, employment insurance numbers have risen in Alberta, coinciding with when crude started plunging in August of last year. Before that, the EI figures had been easing after the Great Recession.

The government’s payroll data have shown that Alberta lost 63,500 jobs in the first eight months of this year, the most since the same period in 2009.

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