I think it is probably safe to say, then, that unpublished authors in Canada are going it alone. If you completed your first book, save yourself some time and send it out directly to publishers. Start contacting agents after you've sold your second book.
This was one of the eye-opening points shared at the Canadian Authors Association's discussion What Publishers Want from Authors. Two speakers provided viewpoints: Frances Backhouse, as a writer who has worked with a few different publishers, and Taryn Boyd, as the Associate Publisher at TouchWood Editions here in Victoria.
Both speakers agreed on the importance of having a platform before your book is published. Publishers want to know that you are willing to promote your book and have venues to do so. Note any media interviews you've given, your social media experience and any podcasts or readings of your work. And give them numbers, if you have them (e.g. I have 3,000 followers on Twitter).
The second piece of advice was to be a professional and collaborative partner with the publisher. Treat them with respect and understand that you both want the same thing, the best outcome for your book. However, the best outcome does not equate to selling a million copies of your book and becoming rich. (A very small percentage of people in the business become rich. Most earn a modest return.) Having a realistic expectation of how well the book will do, helping to promote the book and not expecting miracles from the publishing team will all go a long way to cementing a collaborative relationship.
Even if your book does sell a million copies, understand that the author's share is 10%. The book seller, the distributor, the sales reps and the publisher split 90%. And, if you are lucky enough to secure one of the 30 agents in Canada, he or she takes 15% of all the money you earn (advances and royalties). Granted, their job is to make you more money, whether in the contract itself or by selling other rights. So with a good agent, you should end up with more money in your pocket, not less. But as stated at the top of the blog, most writers in Canada do not have agents. So don't let that stop you!
Research publishers to find the right fit for your book and then send them a query letter. Work on that pitch or proposal! Have a good understanding of where your book fits in the current market, who it will appeal to and how it will impact readers. Then succinctly communicate that in your letter or email. Every publisher is hoping to find a compelling idea in a book they just can't put down. It could be yours.