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Job Seekers look through a bulletin board for employment opportunities at a Job Fair in Toronto on Tuesday April 28 2015.Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

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More Canadians are collecting employment-insurance benefits, with the ranks of those receiving EI now climbing for eight months in a row.

The number of EI beneficiaries rose 2 per cent to 545,200 in July from a month earlier, Statistics Canada said Thursday, led by increases in British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. That level is 7.1 per cent higher than a year ago.

In Alberta, the province most exposed to lower oil prices, the number of EI beneficiaries climbed for the ninth straight month. EI numbers rose 1.8 per cent from a month earlier – a slower pace than in previous months – and are 72.2 per cent higher than in July of last year.

British Columbia and Ontario saw the biggest monthly percentage increases while Quebec and Saskatchewan also registered gains. Numbers fell in Manitoba and Newfoundland.

Canada's jobless rate is currently 7 per cent and about 1.3 million people are searching for work. Employment has risen 1.1 per cent from a year earlier, although Alberta has posted no job growth this year.

Monthly numbers can bounce around. But over all, the number of people on EI has risen in every month since November, after levels had subsided in recent years.

Ontario tallied an increase of 3.6 per cent in the month, the largest gain for the province since June, 2009, Statscan said. Among its cities, Oshawa saw a 36.6-per-cent increase, a bump that is probably related to a cut in production of the Chevrolet Camaro at a General Motors Co. assembly plant in that city before the end of assembly of the muscle car later this year. A cut in production to 33 vehicles an hour from 45 has led to the elimination of 300 jobs. GM has said substantial incentive packages offered to older workers means workers are leaving voluntarily instead of being laid off.

Monthly EI numbers also climbed in Kelowna, B.C., Victoria, Edmonton and nine other cities in Ontario.

Over the past year, the biggest percentage increases in EI recipients have been in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. In Ontario, levels are little changed from a year earlier while they are lower in the territories.

Among cities, Moncton, Saint John, Gatineau, Saguenay, Que., Thunder Bay, Windsor, Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton and Kelowna have all seen double-digit percentage increases from a year ago.

Among sectors, most workers collecting EI were formerly employed in primary industry – such as the energy sector – along with natural and applied sciences, and trades and transport.

EI – and EI reforms – have been the subject of much policy debate in recent years. Some experts, such as Michel Bédard, the former chief actuary for the program, are calling for an overhaul to improve eligibility and ensure that EI operates at arm's length from the federal government.

Pressures on the EI system may ease. The number of EI claims – an indicator of the number of people who could eventually become beneficiaries – fell 12.6 per cent in July after two months of increases, as claims in Ontario, B.C. and Alberta subsided. The total number of new claims fell to its lowest level since October.

Statistics Canada doesn't count the number of people who exhaust their EI benefits without finding work.

With a report from Greg Keenan

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