07/14/2017 16:09 EDT | Updated 07/14/2017 18:53 EDT

Canada Is No Mouse, It's More Like A Moose: Trudeau To U.S. Governors

He's put a new spin on his dad's famous words.

Brian Snyder / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau leaves the stage after answering questions from Governors at the National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence, R.I. on July 14, 2017.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has put a new spin on his father's famous words about the Canada-U.S. relationship.

Back in 1969, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau scored laughs at the Washington Press Club when he compared living next to the United States with sleeping with an elephant.

"No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast... one is affected by every twitch and grunt," he said at the time.

'Strong and peaceable, but still massively outweighed'

The current prime minister referenced that line Friday while delivering a keynote address at the National Governors Association meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, where 32 state leaders were in attendance.

Trudeau touted Canada as a "confident, creative, resourceful and resource-rich nation," that is wealthy and influential by global standards. Yet the "world's only superpower," with a population "roughly 10 times our size," is just next door.

"While you, my American friends, may be an elephant, Canada is no mouse. More like a moose. Strong and peaceable, but still massively outweighed," Trudeau said.

"And so we need to work harder to make our points, to advocate for the interests of Canadian families in a way that will connect down here."

While you, my American friends, may be an elephant, Canada is no mouse. More like a moose. Strong and peaceable, but still massively outweighed.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Pitching free trade and the thinning of the Canada-U.S. border, Trudeau lauded what he called the "most successful economic partnership in the history of the world." He highlighted that nine million U.S. workers depend on Canadian trade and investment.

He also said two-thirds of U.S. states have Canada as their top export market and scored applause once he started listing some by name, from Alabama to Wisconsin.

And he said Canada welcomes the "imminent modernization" of the North American Free Trade Agreement, long promised by U.S. President Donald Trump.

"NAFTA isn't perfect, no such agreement ever is. We think it should be updated and modernized as it has been a dozen times over the past quarter century," he said. "And I have every expectation that it will be for the ultimate benefit of working people in all three partner countries."

Brian Snyder / Reuters
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States Vice President Mike Pence meet on the sidelines of the National Governors Association summer meeting in Providence, R.I. on July 14, 2017.

But he cautioned leaders to avoid the bait of "politically tempting shortcuts," such as new trade barriers that kill growth.

That's the kind of thing, Trudeau suggested, that could irk a moose.

"Once we travel down that road it can quickly become a cycle of tit-for-tat, a race to the bottom, where all sides lose," he said. "My friends, Canada doesn't want to go there. If anything we'd like a thinner border for trade, not a thicker one."

Canada and the U.S. are currently discussing a new trade deal on softwood lumber. The Trump administration slapped softwood lumber tariffs on Canada in the spring, and the U.S. president has mused recently about taxing steel imports.

Photo gallery When Trudeau Met Trump See Gallery

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence also addressed the group Friday with a message that could help put the Trudeau government at ease.

"We will modernize NAFTA for the 21st century so that it is a win-win-win for all of our trading partners in North America,'' Pence said.

Pence mentioned Trudeau by name, saying the U.S. and Canada have a "remarkably strong" relationship.

"We're grateful for the prime minister's leadership and his early outreach to this administration," he said. "President Trump recognizes that every trade relationship can improve and... we're looking forward to bringing NAFTA into the future in a way that will equally benefit both our countries.''

Though Trudeau has faced calls from New Democrats to be more forceful with Trump, not just about economic matters but on the U.S. travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations, the prime minister has largely made efforts to avoid getting on the president's bad side.

On Canada Day, Trump tweeted best wishes to his "new found friend" Trudeau and sang his praises at the G20 summit in Germany last week.

"Justin is doing a spectacular job in Canada," Trump said at the summit. "Everybody loves him, and they love him for a reason."

With files from The Canadian Press