Wildfires Drive Record Spike in Alberta Unemployment Claims

Unemployment claims and beneficiaries surged in Canada’s main oil-producing province in May, reaching record levels after wildfires knocked out 1 million barrels per day of crude production.

A total of 77,810 out-of-work people in Alberta received Employment Insurance benefits in May, an increase of 12.1 percent from the previous month and the highest in the history of the data since 1997. The figure beat a previous record of 71,100 recipients set in September 2009 during an oil-price slump triggered by the global financial crisis.

The number of people filing EI claims in Alberta rose by 22,800 in May, or 69.8 percent -- the largest gain in any province in the history of the data.

One third of Alberta’s new beneficiaries came from the Fort McMurray region, home of the oil sands and where wildfires that month razed part of the city and temporarily shuttered mines. The number of beneficiaries from Fort McMurray rose 141.6 percent from the previous month, while recipients in the province’s two major cities, Calgary and Edmonton, rose 6.8 percent and 8.4 percent, respectively.

Nationally, unemployment insurance beneficiaries rose to 544,900 people, up 0.9 percent from the previous month and up 2.4 percent from a year earlier. Once Canada’s economic engine, Alberta now has 14.2 percent of Canada’s EI recipients with 11.7 percent of the national population.