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OTTAWA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - The number of Canadians receiving unemployment benefits in the oil-producing province of Alberta rose for the third month in a row in December, while an increase in people filing new claims suggested that could climb further.
The number of Albertans getting jobless benefits rose 1.7 percent to 97,870 in December compared with the previous month, data from Statistics Canada showed on Thursday.
Excluding July of last year when changes were made to unemployment insurance eligibility, that was the largest number of beneficiaries in the province since data tracking began in 1997.
Policymakers expect that the worst of the global oil price slump that disrupted the Canadian economy is in the past, though they acknowledge that some workers will continue to feel the fallout from fewer jobs and lower wages for some time.
Compounding Alberta's problems were wildfires last year which hit oil sands production areas, entailing a long clean-up and rebuilding period.
Alberta's major cities, Calgary and Edmonton, saw the number of people on unemployment benefits jump 4.1 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.
The increase in the province also bucked the national trend, which saw the number of Canadians receiving benefits decline 0.6 percent to 568,790.
The number of Canadians that filed claims for unemployment benefits, which points to how many people could receive them in the future, rose 3.0 percent nationally, the first increase since July.
Claims increased in most of the provinces, including Alberta, which was up 1.1 percent. In Saskatchewan, where the economy is also tied to commodity prices, claims jumped 13.5 percent. (Reporting by Leah Schnurr, Editing by W Simon)